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News Special Coverage Industry Overview Supply & Demand Price Reference Forum
 

IWSC Market Insight: the Chinese wine market

Vino-joy.com by Natalie Wang22/07/2021  

Introduction

In 1996, when then Chinese premier Li Peng praised the health benefits of wine during China鈥檚 National People鈥檚 Congress, it sent an unmistakable signal to the country鈥檚 officials and politically savvy wine merchants: China鈥檚 age of wine had come.

That same year, ASC Fine Wines, which would later go on to become China鈥檚 biggest wine importer, was created. Wine imports soared; by the end of 2013, the Chinese were drinking more red wine than the French.

That was a generation ago, when China鈥檚 wine consumption was not so much about appreciating varietal character but using the liquid, particularly classified Bordeaux, for gifting and to lubricate business meals and banquets.

But the fast rise of wine meant an equally dramatic collapse at the whim of political winds. At the beginning of 2013, Beijing鈥檚 new leadership cracked down on luxurious spending and wasteful official banquets; wine sales, particularly of fine wines, dried up. Merchants were stuck with gluts that would take years to deplete.

One of the main impacts of the anti-corruption clampdown is that it accelerated a shift from luxury gifting and prestige-driven wine consumption to more value-driven New World wines. A key beneficiary of this trend is Australia. By the summer of 2019, Australia had overtaken France to become China鈥檚 biggest wine supplier, taking up close to 40% market share.

That however did not last long. China slapped a whopping 218% tariff on Australian wines in March 2021, effectively ending Australia鈥檚 wine exports to its most profitable market.

There is one thing that is clear about China鈥檚 wine market: its boundless promise is matched with equally boundless uncertainty. Although projected to become the world鈥檚 second-biggest wine consumer in 2020, China鈥檚 ranking in fact slumped from fifth to sixth, a combined result of economic slowdown and pandemic, according to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine's (OIV) latest report on the state of the world viticultural sector in 2020.

Despite Li Peng鈥檚 championing of wine back in the 1990s, China鈥檚 drinks consumption is still heavily skewed towards baijiu, the ancient grain-based Chinese spirit. Baiju, along with beer, traditional Chinese yellow wine and other spirits, accounts for at least 90% of market share. Post-pandemic, baijiu sales have surged. One explanation is that in uncertain times, consumers lean to what is familiar (baijiu鈥檚 origins date back 5000 years).

This is not to say the wine market has no potential. The latest national census shows the country has over 900 million urban residents with high disposable income; there are an estimated 52 million wine drinkers, according to market analyst Wine Intelligence. As Chinese wine consumption moves away from speculative and prestige drinking and becomes more stable as it is taken up by the burgeoning middle class, the wine market size is expected to expand to US$18bn by 2023, up from US$14.8bn in 2018 (Vinexpo and IWSR). China鈥檚 vast e-commerce landscape will also have a major role in shaping the future of wine consumption.

It鈥檚 worthy to note that Hong Kong, which eliminated wine taxes in 2008, is considered a mature wine market with a large number of experienced wine merchants with specialist knowledge and wine trade experiences. The fine wine trading hub accounts for roughly 60% of global wine and spirits sold at auctions through Sotheby鈥檚, a larger share than London and New York. Across the border in Macau, Portuguese wines remain the most popular wine category thanks to its colonial past. In Taiwan, French wines lead, though wines from the US and Chile are catching up.

WHERE DO THE CHINESE BUY THEIR WINES?

Imported wines take over from domestic

China鈥檚 wine market has been slowing down since 2018, a result of the country鈥檚 slowing economy and the protracted China-US trade war. The 2020 pandemic significantly complicates this picture.

The country鈥檚 imported wine dropped by 27% in value to US$1.95bn (鈧?.6bn) last year, according to customs data. This is a sharp decline for the second year in a row: the accelerated growth that we have seen in the past seems to have come to an end. It should be noted that compared to domestically-produced wine, imported wine grew markedly from US$2.03bn in 2015 to 2019鈥檚 US$2.43bn 鈥?even allowing for the distorting effect of the pandemic it was still growing up to 2020.

Domestically-produced Chinese wine - mainly from the country鈥檚 two biggest producers, Changyu Pioneer Wine Company and GreatWall Wine 鈥?has traditionally dominated the market but the balance has now changed. According to CADA, imported wine has overtaken Chinese wine to be the main category consumed within the country, taking up 60% market share in terms of volume.

Domestic wine production has been on a downward spiral for five years: 2020 production was less than half that of 2016. Data compiled from the country鈥檚 155 leading wineries showed that sales revenue plunged from RMB46bn (US$7.14bn) in 2015 to RMB14.5bn (US$2.25bn) in 2019, according to China Alcoholic Drinks Association (CADA), the country鈥檚 official drinks regulatory body.

Overall wine consumption decreases in 2020

In 2020, the country鈥檚 overall wine consumption dropped by 17.4%.

The strict lockdown measures in the first quarter of the year certainly played a role. But unlike in the US or Europe, where strong off-trade wine sales helped compensate losses on trade, in China this failed to replicate. The country鈥檚 wine consumption is heavily concentrated on restaurants, hotels, bars and other on-trade premises while home consumption was limited.

In China there are over 7.1 million full-service restaurants, 18.2 million fast food restaurants and 404,000 street food stalls, according to 2019 data. In the first half of 2020, restaurants and bars were forced to close or operate within limited hours. In the month of February restaurant and bar closures over Chinese New Year lost wine merchants their most important wine sales period (Chinese New Year wine sales can contribute to as much as 30% of annual revenue for some companies).

5700 bars were forced to close in 2020, according to Chinese research company Zhiyan.

Where are most wine consumers concentrated?


There is a very wide variety of Chinese wine. Mass wines churned out in coastal Shandong province can sell for US$2 a bottle or less. Most of the wines hitting supermarkets are priced around RMB100 (US$15.60) a bottle, from the country鈥檚 biggest producers such as Changyu Pioneer Wine Company, GreatWall Winery, Dynasty and Weilong Winery.

Higher quality wines from Ningxia average around RMB300 (US$46) a bottle and are gaining popularity among the country鈥檚 younger consumers who take pride in well-crafted Chinese products. Collectibles from some of the country鈥檚 top wineries such as Silver Heights鈥?Emma鈥檚 Reserve can go up to RMB 3500 (US$548) a bottle.

There鈥檚 a shift to making low-intervention, organic, biodynamic and natural wines among China鈥檚 top tier wineries in Ningxia and Xinjiang. There is also a gathering movement amongst the world鈥檚 major fine wine groups to tap into China.

DBR Lafite鈥檚 Chinese winery Domaine de Long Dai released its Bordeaux blend first vintage, the 2017, with a whopping price tag of RMB 2,388 (US$335) a bottle, similar to the price for high-altitude Ao Yun by LVMH in Yunnan. There鈥檚 also no shortage of Chinese producers making surprisingly pricey wines in heavy bottles with high-concept (and arguably pretentious) packaging. Changyu AFIP No.1, engraved with a 18k gold-plated number 1 and set with 28 Swarovski gems, sells for RMB 29,800 a bottle.

The country鈥檚 biggest wine producer is Changyu Pioneer Wine Company, headquartered in Yantai, Shandong province. Its annual production is around 200m litres, and it has expanded its production to Ningxia, Beijing, Liaoning, Shaanxi, and Xinjiang. The listed wine company has also snapped up vineyards in Spain, Chile and Australia, with much of the output destined for China.

State-owned GreatWall Winery is the second-biggest wine producer in the country. Similar to Changyu, it has wineries in Ningxia, Hebei and Shandong.

Other notable Chinese wineries that are building a steady following are Silver Heights, Legacy Peak, Tiansai Vineyards, Puchang, Grace Vineyard, Xige, Domaine Franco and Domaine des Ar?mes.

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