Last week I read an interesting article Euro wine trade to China faces curbs on wine consumption and purchasing trends in China. Although the title and introduction of the article focus on what will happen with the trade of European wines in China, the article develops into a broader insight touching on what is currently happening in what has become one of the world’s most important wine markets.
And after the visit of some Chinese business associates this week, I thought about how the Chinese market has changed.
I remember my first visit to China many years ago and how different I found everything to be. In China you are in the heart of Eastern culture. I remember how interesting and strange and often intimidating we as Westerners found the culture and way of life. We were careful not to offend and in awe of how they have kept their traditions alive. How many tales started with “in the Qing dynasty” or “in the Yuan dynasty”…?!
We were also amazed at how little we ever saw Chinese people drink wine. We could not see evidence of a wine lifestyle. In restaurants it was mainly foreigners enjoying wine with lunch, while in the humid heat of an August afternoon our new Chinese acquaintances would cool down with tea or a beer and for those late-night sessions, Chinese alcohol would be the drink of choice. It was mainly when important guests needed to be impressed that an expensive bottle of red wine would have been ordered from a usually limited wine list with a few acclaimed French labels.
So, when we started trading our wines in the Chinese market, the initial focus was on their traditional way of dealing with wine – expensive wines in plush packaging with which our Chinese customers could impress business partners whether the wine was served at a lavish banquet or used as a gift.
Such a big country, so steeped in tradition – would they ever change their drinking patterns and start to enjoy a lifestyle that include the everyday consumption of wine? Would they ever consider South African wine important and expensive enough to be deemed a possible order for dinner or as a gift?
Today we can see how the age-old Chinese traditions are allowing more and more wine-lifestyle influences. Nowadays there is a market for more affordable wines. People want to buy wine for their own enjoyment and not only to impress someone. The need arose for a local wine industry which could produce and supply wine at a more affordable price and in the ten years from 2000 to 2010, Chinese wine production has quadrupled.
Perhaps they would enjoy a glass of white on a warm summer’s day, rather than only enjoying red? Indeed. Although 70% of our wine exported to China is still red, the white segment has seen a steady growth, especially over the past two years.
This segment of the market – the more adventurous social wine drinkers – is still small and according to topwinechina.com only accounts for 9% of the wine-drinking population (although it equates for 21% of total spend). “This group has a far wider repertoire than other high-spenders, and is willing to explore the New World and other regions.” Keep in mind that although 9% is a very low figure, it is a small slice of a very big pie.
I believe in honouring your heritage and traditions and appreciate how the Chinese population has managed to do that over centuries, but I also believe in change and a dynamic society. In today’s era where information is so accessible and easily shared, it is almost impossible to stop Western and Eastern lifestyles influencing each other. I am impressed by how the Chinese is embracing change. They can be commended on finding a way for allowing other cultural influences without sacrificing their own.