Grape Press: Chinese workers and California’s wine history, and more

Some picks from recent China-related wine news…

Chinese are a growing player in the world of wine as consumers, but according to the San Francisco Chronicle, they also helped get Californian wine off the ground, so to speak. From an article titled, ” California wine industry started with Chinese workers“:

Old newspaper articles and other 19th-century accounts show hundreds of Chinese workers in both Napa and Sonoma counties.

Many were farmers who brought their agricultural skills to the industry, helping establish vines and working in cellars….

A 1967 paper by a Napa school official on file at the Napa County Historical Society records that when rains turned the 1887 grape harvest into a muddy mess, keeping wagons out, Chinese workers waded in barefoot and hauled out the grapes.

But 19th-century Chinese in California faced fierce discrimination, including laws banning them from owning property and campaigns urging farmers not to hire them. In 1882, Congress passed an immigration ban on Chinese. Populations dwindled and rural Chinatowns disappeared as workers headed to cities.

Meanwhile, the Wine Spectator writes about a report that finds as world wine consumption drops, China offers the greatest potential for growth:

People are drinking wine at a slower rate, and the global recession appears to have accelerated the trend. Worldwide per-capita wine consumption fell for the third consecutive year in 2008, and is projected to fall even further, at least until early in the next decade….

Much of the blame can be placed on the mature wine markets of the European Union, where lifestyle changes have been a major factor in the decline…. For Europeans with increasingly fast-paced lifestyles, soft drinks, juice and bottled water have taken over important roles at drinking occasions, particularly among younger drinkers. In 1980, France and Italy combined for 45 percent of global wine consumption, but by last year, their aggregate share was down to 24 percent….

The United States still represents tremendous potential for the world wine market—Americans consumed an average of only 9 liters per-capita last year, compared to 51 liters and 44 liters, respectively, for the French and Italians. Canada, Chile, South Africa and Australia have all enjoyed steady consumption growth also, as have the emerging markets of India, Taiwan, South Korea and Norway. But China will probably account for much of the future growth in global wine consumption, as the Chinese drink less than a bottle of wine per person annually.

And at a micro level, ABC reports that although Australian wine exports are down 14 percent, China remains among the bright spots:

An Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation report says the value of Australian wine exports fell 14 per cent in the year ending April 2009….

The United Kingdom accounted for more than half of that decline.

The report says the three Asian markets of Hong Kong, China and Japan continued to be the growth centres for Australian wine exports.

China recorded the largest growth in value, with an increase of $30 million.

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