Wine workshop I: China wine 101

I attended seven lectures and tasted fourteen local wines on August 9, the second day of the International Workshop on the Wine Market in China, held in Beijing. I’ll post notes all week.

The workshop was at China Agricultural University near Beijing’s Fifth Ring Road. It’s the boondocks if you live downtown as I do, but once there—and having dealt with a cab driver who wanted to drop me miles from the school—I saw the wisdom. The smog is lighter, the cicadas buzz, and a lazy day feel permeates the campus. Plus, the Summer Palace, which ranks only behind the Great Wall as a must-see in the area (yes, I rank the Forbidden City third), is nearby in case we — about 25 people gathered from five continents — got out of class early.

No such luck, but it didn’t matter, as the day was full of interesting seminars.

First up was Qi Wang, general secretary of the China Alcoholic Drinks Industry Association. My Mandarin is weak and the translation of Wang’s talk spotty at times, but here are five points gleaned from his printed materials and comments:

According to the Bureau of Statistics, China produced 4.95 million hectoliters of wine in 2006. The top 10 producing areas (measured in 1000 hectoliters):

2396 – Shandong
1057 – Hebei
0419 – Tianjin
0288 – Jilin
0269 – Henan
0156 – Beijing
0089 – Gansu
0061 – Yunan
0057 – Xinjiang
0055 – Shan’xi

These represent 95.87 percent of production. (Some might be surprised to see Jilin, a northeastern province bordering North Korea and Russia in the top five, and Yunnan, a southwestern province bordering Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar in the top ten. I expected Xinjiang in the northwest to have ranked higher given it has a long, well-known history of growing grapes.)

A mere 37,000 hectoliters of this wine, or less than 1 percent, was exported in 2006 (up 48.2 percent over 2005). In contrast, 1,147,000 hectoliters was imported (up 151.1 percent over 2005). These numbers have been increasing even faster in 2007.

There are some 500 wineries in China. The top ten represent just over 62 percent of total production, while the top five take just over 47 percent. Top brands Changyu, Great Wall, Dynasty and Weilong (Dragon Seal) are dominant.

(4) Major Chinese brands continue quick growth and to dominate market share. According to Qi’s notes, these wineries “could make new breakthroughs in vineyard development, further individualizing products and launching high-end products” while smaller wineries aim at “presenting their wine characteristics and catering to the needs of particular consumers.” In other words, don’t expect Chinese companies to stand by as consumer tastes evolve but to instead respond to the market.

(5) New wine regulations will come into effect in January. As examples, Qi said that 80 percent of a wine must come from the vintage year indicated on the bottle, while 75 percent of the wine must be from the grape variety listed. His notes state that to “reinforce the regulations of the wine industry is an urgent matter” and cite issues such as fake vintages and low-quality wines. These have long been issues, whether it’s foreign wine bottled and marketed here as “Chinese”, ambiguities about vintages, or the prevalence of counterfeit goods. (These regulatory issues could have filled a morning all by themselves and I’ll post more about them in the future.)

Tomorrow: Wine workshop II, Shop ’til you pop

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  1. Hi Y A,

    I agree that wine is going more mainstream. The wine community is growing for sure in Beijing and an increasing number of people are interested in learning about wine. This can only help improve the quality and choice that we have, IMHO.

    Cheers, Boyce

  2. Many thanks for this valuable posting. Events like this international workshop proves that (grape) wine is going mainstream in China. Consumer education is still the key to acceptance of wine as part of daily life among the populace. Otherwise “grape wine” made of water and chemicals will continue to confuse and disturbe the market place.

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