Viral update | Australian wine in China

Campbell Thompson, co-owner of Beijing-based The Wine Republic and a 20 year-plus China business veteran, recently told me he canceled all tastings and dinners as well as winemakers and supplier visits through March, due to the coronavirus situation here.

Thompson, whose portfolio hails most from Australia, was a few steps ahead as recent government and airline measures are pretty much making visits a no-go anyway. Entry to Australia from China is increasingly being restricted until the virus is under control.

A few hours ago, Australia’s foreign ministry announced new measures, to be reviewed in 14 days (full statement here):

“Effective immediately, foreign nationals (excluding permanent residents) who are in mainland China from today forward, will not be allowed to enter Australia for 14 days from the time they have left or transited through mainland China.”

“Australian citizens and permanent residents will still be able to enter [from mainland China], as will their immediate family members (spouses, legal guardians or dependants only)…. [They must] self-isolate for 14 days from the time they left mainland China.”

Translating that to the wine trade:

Foreign nationals coming to Australia from mainland China, ranging from tourists who planned to visit wineries to trade people focused on anything from sales to viticulture to investment to internships, now face mandatory quarantine.

This also affects people returning to study wine-related topics at Australian schools, with the next semester set to start on Monday.

(Given China is the top source of students and tourists in Australia, these measures are likely to have significant effects even in the short term.)

And Australians coming to mainland China, like wine suppliers, winemakers or other trade people, for trade fairs, sales meetings, dinners / tastings, winery consulting, et al, face a mandatory two-week self-quarantine upon return.

Getting to and from Australia won’t get easier, either. Qantas announced it will suspend its direct services to mainland China, the Sydney to Beijing and Sydney to Shanghai routes, from February 9 to March 29.

Quantas said February 9 was chosen “to balance high passenger numbers in both directions – including Australian residents wanting to return home from China – with the various travel restrictions being applied. ” It added the date could be moved up depending on circumstances.

In short, here in China, don’t expect any invites to dinners hosted by visiting Australian winemakers. (Or to pretty much anything else.) And in Australia, expect the number of wine students, tourists and trade members to sharply fall.

It’s hard to say how long this situation will last. Wine Australia CEO Andreas Clark was reported as planning to send this update: “At this stage, it is too early to make a decision about Chengdu in March, Vinexpo Hong Kong in May and the China Roadshow in June, noting that the Chinese government has cancelled events in February where there would have been large gatherings of people but to date no action has been taken about events in March or later.”

And this, of course, is hardly the only impact of the coronavirus situation. As I wrote in my last newsletter, there will be significant effects on staff, on retail and bar / restaurant sales, on deliveries and more. (My next posts will look at those issues.)

For Australia, this comes at time when the country has taken top spot as a wine import source in China. And for his part, Thompson thinks the trade is willing and ready to maintain that relationship.

“The only silver lining is, I think, is once we beat this thing, I’m confident that Australian wineries will be very keen to visit and support the China market,” says Thompson.

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