Double Down (Under): Penfolds to release Yunnan-Ningxia wine CWT 521

Australia’s Penfolds is the latest with a crazy expensive* wine from high in the mountains of Yunnan in southern China.

Treasury Wine Estates has taken the next step in its China wine making strategy, launching a $150-a-bottle red wine from Chinese grapes as part of its 2023 Penfolds Collection,” posted Australian media last night. (AUD150 is about RMB730 or USD100.)

Called CWT 521 aka China Winemaking Trial 521, this Cabernet Sauvignon-Marselan blends wine from two regions and will be available in small amounts globally from August 3.

The Cabernet hails from Yunnan, from an area near the Sichuan and Tibet borders named Shangri-la, in reference to the utopian novel Lost Horizon by James Hilton. That area features secluded vineyards from 2000 to 3000 meters high, set against dramatic backdrops, and some think it is destined to make China’s finest wines.

The Marselan is from Ningxia in north-central China, where the weather is harsher and wide-open spaces contrast to Yunnan’s peaks. Ningxia has emerged during the past dozen years as a powerhouse, with the potential for big quantities of good wine.

(Marselan itself is emerging as a signature grape for China. See my project World Marselan Day and our Marselsen festivals in Beijing and Shanghai this year.)

CWT 521 is the latest move by Penfolds to gain share in a market that it, and other Australian producers, was pretty much pushed out of two years ago due to tariffs reaching as high as 218 percent, the result of an anti-dumping investigation by China.

source: penfolds.com

Another move was the global launch of the One by Penfolds series last week in Hong Kong, a quartet of wines — two from France, one from California and one from China. Each includes an image of an animal on its label associated with that nation — a rooster for France, a bear for California, a panda for China — a bit like the Tussock Jumper series. The wines will initially be sold in China, with Penfolds’ site listing them at AUD30 / USD20 / RMB145 per bottle.

(After seeing the launch party photos, I’ll need to switch my image of Penfolds fans from businesspeople doing “bottoms up / ganbei” in the private rooms of restaurants, to Gen Zers in casual sportswear–think Penfolds varsity jackets, yo!–hanging out at da club. Comparing those two scenarios, this is the first thing that came to mind:)

Anyway that Chinese wine in the One quartet hails from Ningixia. So did an earlier vintage, released last year and the first China wine from Penfolds.

Of course, these project so far are small change for Penfolds compared to a few years ago, and the best solution would be the lifting, or at least easing, of the tariffs.

Before those hit, Penfolds was a juggernaut. As I posted in “If Penfolds were a country, where would it rank?” in 2019, the value of imports from Penfolds’ parent company Treasury Wine Estates alone was on par with Chile, about double either Italy or Spain and nearly eight times the United States. And Penfolds was the major force behind those numbers.

So influential was the brand that one of the hoped-for saviors of Ningxia’s wine scene, Xige Estate, has been called the Penfolds of that region due to some of its marketing strategies, including labeling bin number style, and the owner’s previous distribution of Penfolds Max. So influential that hopes Chinese wine might take over Penfolds lucractive banqueting spots proved unfulfilled as the brand was seen as hard to replace. So influential it is quite easy to find dozens of riffs on Penfolds name, font, color and livery in this country because the brand posseses cache among consumers.

Anyway, today’s news: Penfolds has a Yinchuan-Ningxia wine. And that’s on top of two other made-in-China wines. But the real news will be the lifting of the tariffs.

* To be fair, CWT is not crazy ass expensive given some other wines out there. In Yunnan, for example, LVMH’s Ao Yun wines currently sell at RMB3000 (USD450) and up. More recently, Bao Zhuang released its Celebre wine to much fanfare and word is it will cost much more. And there are lots of other examples out there of wines at those lofty price heights.


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