Viticultural conditions in China make fine wine production difficult and bulk wine production expensive, according to Li Demei, vice general secretary of the China Wine Association.
Workers bury the vines for winter in Ningxia. By Nicholas Acquroff. Source: www.broadsheet.com.au
Despite commenting that China “will become another big wine country” at a conference on industry trends at November’s HKTDC Wine & Spirits fair, he highlighted a number of drawbacks to growing grapes in the country.
Speaking of wine regions in the north of China, he said it was “difficult to make wine” due to hot summers and “extremely cold” winters.
Furthermore, humid conditions in early autumn can present a particular challenge for viticulturists in the country, as the combination of heat and moisture require vineyard managers to spray against rot, but, because such conditions are often close to harvest, it’s risky to use fungicides – any applications less than 30 days before picking could leave residues on the grapes which could get into the wine.
On the other hand, if vintners choose a dry area they may find it difficult to find a source of water for irrigation, according to Demei.
He also stressed that burying vines in the winter – a common practice to protect against freezing temperatures – “costs a lot”.
For these reasons, he summed up, “The quality of the vineyard cannot be as good as Bordeaux, and the cost is higher than Chile or Argentina.”
In other words, China will find it hard to compete at the very top and bottom end of the market.
When discussing current trends in Chinese domestic wine production he said that although the Ningxia wine region receives the most press coverage, it is in fact Xinjiang that is by far the biggest viticultural area, but because much of its production is sold in bulk, you rarely see the GI on labels.
Demei also noted that Chinese consumers choose wine according to price, region, packaging, brand, grape variety and then taste.
“Taste is not top,” he stated, adding, “food and wine pairing on the table doesn’t matter, and it’s not possible to choose a wine to match such a range of flavours.”
This statement supports the findings of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, which, as previously reported by the drinks business showed that the Chinese don’t drink wine for its taste, but buy the beverage for its supposed health benefits.
Meanwhile, Demei noted that there’s a myth surrounding Chinese tastes and sweet wine: “It’s not true that the Chinese consumer likes sweet wine”.
As a consequence he commented, “Most of the Sauternes that is drunk in China is for free tasting, it is not being bought by the consumer.”