Trends detected from the fifth Wine China Expo in Beijing in late April 2012 were a drift away from a fascination with red, an interest in less-sweet wines, and a growing sophistication in wine marketing.
How do we measure sophistication? I use the mini-skirt ratio. At other wine exhibitions I have attended in China, booth owners employed attractive young women in mini skirts to market their wine. Most winemakers I spoke with talked of the inverse relationship between skirts and wine: The shorter the skirts, the worse the wine. Some of the skirts in previous years have been very revealing.
This year in Beijing I noted fewer mini-skirts.
China has not become the acme of sophistication over night. Some booth owners still offer lukewarm white wine in plastic wine glasses. Many still display their wares but do not offer them for tasting. Yes, a wine tasting without the tasting. Some decorate their booths with sweet-smelling flowers whose aromas overwhelm the flavours one detects from their wine.
But one cannot deny the growth of the wine business in China. See my other article in this edition for details. This year’s Wine China Expo was held in Beijing on April 23 and 24 April for trade people, with April 25 allocated for public visitors. The location was the China World Trade Center in Beijing. It attracted 300 exhibitors from 35 countries who paid for 450 booths (though perhaps a fifth of the booths marketed olive oil).
Robert Wu, who managed the event, said last year’s Beijing expo, also in April, attracted 200 exhibitors from 24 countries. The 50 per cent increase in the number of exhibitors this year suggests growth.
It was difficult to estimate the number of attendees in Beijing because admission is free once people register with a business card. Given the ease with which one can buy fake business cards in China, who knows how many legitimate attendees were there. The official figure for attendance was 12,000.
The expo moved to Shanghai for April 26, which must have meant some trauma for jet-lagged Western exhibitors who had to finish about 5pm on April 25 and be set up in Shanghai for 10am the next day. Domestic flights in China, especially between Beijing and Shanghai (about two hours to the south), are seldom on time.
At least at the Beijing event no-one tried to sell me fake watches, jewellery and handbags: something that has happened at earlier wine events. This article I wrote for China Daily in June 2011 describes the experiences of the Shanghai international wine festival: http://squinn.org/?p=401
It will take some years for China to match the success of VINEXPO Asia-Pacific, the major wine event held on consecutive years in Hong Kong and Bordeaux. The 2012 exhibition from May 29-31 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre will assemble a record 1,050 exhibitors from 28 countries, and anticipates 14,000 buyers from around the world.
At this year’s Beijing event I noted that while red wines remain popular, but sensed whites and sparklings might be starting to gain a foothold. Many of the wines my colleagues and I tasted were less sweet than in previous years. Moscato appears to be emerging as a popular variety.
The expo also saw the first booth occupied by a Canadian winemaker, Unsworth Vineyards, from Mill Bay in British Columbia.
One interesting feature was the number of booths marketing wines from former Soviet countries like Georgia, or former Communist-aligned nations such as Romania.
Romania’s wine producers are looking to China for their future. A special wine-loading terminal is being built in Galati harbour on the country’s east coast. It is a contract between Romanian exporters and Chinese investors. China’s national news agency, Xinhua, reported the deal was worth about 50 million euros ($US 70 million).
Romania has eight main wine regions, 37 vineyards, and 171 viticulture centres. The industry was worth 270 million euros ($US 375 million) last year.
Because of its economic growth rate of 9 per cent in 2011, and a steadily rising number of wine consumers, China has established itself as one of the world’s ten largest wine markets. China’s wine industry in the first quarter of 2011 was worth RMB 7.37 billion (up 23.8 per cent from the previous year) with sales of RMB 7.272 billion (up 26.2 per cent).
Imported wines represented 15 per cent of the total market and were expected to rise dramatically. China Customs reports that the annual growth rate of imported wines was about 30 per cent.
The top four distribution points for imported wines were hotels and restaurants, supermarkets and stores, terminal outlets, and group purchases. This represented 95 per cent of total sales.
Chinese taxes on imported wines are high, compared with Hong Kong where taxes were abolished in June 2008.
All imported wines attract customs duty of 14 per cent. Add to that another 17 per cent of value-added tax (VAT) and then a consumption tax of 10 per cent of the previous prices. In all, it adds about 42 per cent to the original cost.
China’s wine market doubled in the five years to 2011, influenced by the adoption of Western culinary habits and a rise in personal incomes. Based on this growth rate, by the end of 2012 China will be the seventh largest wine-consuming nation in the world. By then the Chinese will be drinking 1,000 million bottles of wine a year.