Prowine China 2019: The first-timers of the show
Without a doubt China is one of the most fascinating growing markets for the global wine and spirits industry. While Prowine China in Shanghai is seeing an ever-increasing number of exhibitors at the show, dbHK spoke to few of the first-timers in the show (or even China) to see what attracted them to the market.
French wine producer and distributor Domaine Richard has long been a major player in the Paris on-trade business, supplying close to 30 million bottles to restaurants in Paris each year. The family also owns a number of properties around Bordeaux, the Rhône Valley and Beaujolais, including Château La Nerthe and Château des Tours.
It is a recent strategy for the company to consolidate their family-produced wine portfolio for export. Last year, they began exporting after joining Prowine Düsseldorf, targeting at the UK and US markets at the beginning. Starting in Hong Kong, where the company has been exporting Château La Nerthe for one and a half years already, the temptation has been to slowly expand into the China market. Christophe Bristiel, sales director of the company, saw taking part in Prowine China as, “an opportunity to get the feel of the market and the acceptance of the wine style.”
According to Bristiel, every two out of three bottles of Château La Nerthe are sold in the on-trade, which shows the strong emphasis the company places on the sector. He wishes to extend the root of the business in overseas markets. He explained, “we worked with sommeliers around the world. By joining Prowine China, I am expecting to meet people in the related field to see how we can adapt to the structure of the market.”
South African’s first black winemaker Carmen Stevens debuted her wines in Prowine China this year. “This is my first time participating in a Chinese wine fair and I’m here to put out more feelers to see what I can sell,” she said. She had been to China in 2009 for travelling and revisiting after a decade away she was amazed by the infrastructure development of the country, especially in Shanghai.
Positioned as a premium quality label, she produces 160 tons of wine each year and exports 90% of them to overseas market, mainly in the UK and US. She is interested in opening up the Asian market in China but at the same time was cautious.
“During the show, I met some young visitors who were knowledgeable and they appreciate the quality of my wine; unfortunately most of them were held back because of its origin – South Africa. Meanwhile I also received some guests who visited the booth purposefully to look for South African wines under USD$3. I think the market may need some time to gain more understanding of the region and get to know our country has also the potential to produce wines of premium quality.
“If there are Chinese importers interested in my wine and willing to offer a decent price, I am more than happy to work with them. After all, I can’t sacrifice the cost margin as I am responsible for improving the lives of my workers and the country.” Stevens explained. Having been involved in a range of community projects, she feeds over 10,000 kids in South Africa each year via sponsoring meals in their school canteens. Once under-privileged herself, her motif in winemaking has always been revolving around giving back to the society as much as she can via her elegant yet expressive range of wines.
Also hailing from South Africa, Jonathan Ralph, head of global sales and marketing, and Schalk Opperman, general manager and winemaker, from Lammershoek Winery held a different viewpoint. Located in the sheltering valley of the Paardeberg Mountain in the Swartland district, the 20 hectares of farmland has vines up to 60 years-old. Opperman strives for minimal intervention in his winemaking and is striving to creating something new, for example, a red blend with Viognier and Chenin Blanc, and a Pinotage in an elegant Pinot Noir style.
Focusing on the varieties Chenin Blanc, Syrah and some blends, the family-owned estate produces 140,000 bottles each year and exports around the world, including to China already. Despite the sales in the China market is approaching their fifth year, this is the first time either has been present at the show. “We want to make a big push in China, but the market is not easy at all, largely due to the language barrier and pricing – we don’t produce entry-level wines and the maintenance of our vineyard is expensive,” Ralph said.
He continued, “this year, since the HKTDC and Prowine China fair are taking place one after the other, we decided to join both fairs the first time. In Hong Kong, we were looking for importers as we don’t have one yet; as for Shanghai, we are here to support our importer in the explanation and story telling of our winery to the Chinese visitors. In this fair, we are convinced that Chinese drinkers are not ignorant, some of them came to us straight away to look for Pinotage. We are so interested to learn more about what they want too, for example their palate and packaging that appeals to them.”
Speaking of the perception of South African wines in Chinese market, Ralph said, “South Africa is a new concept for not only China, but also the world. It definitely takes time to grow but I see the Chinese market is picking up fast.”
Formed earlier this year, Austrian Family Estates is an organisation that brings together some family-owned boutique wineries to present them around China. This is the group’s first year in Prowine China.
Andreas Nittnaus from sweet wine producer Nittnaus followed the organisation to take part in the show. He saw that there is a growing interest in Austrian wines as some Asian-based wine experts have started to notice the country. “Most Asian consumers have tried wines from major wine regions and now they start to look for something niche. Austrian wine fits in the gap well, given the quality is solid,” he said.
The wine estate of lies on the eastern shore of Lake Neusiedl in the central part of Gols, situated on the decline of the Parndorf Plateau towards Heideboden. He is very confident in his wines after participating trade shows in Hong Kong for two consecutive years where, “we received many positive feedbacks, this shows we are able to impress people with our quality.” Recently, the winery’s TBA was listed in business class for customers of Asiana Airlines.
Currently producing 500,000 to 600,000 yearly, Nittnaus revealed its ambitions to expand, yet it is doing so strategically as it doesn’t expect quick growth. “The market for sweet wine is not big worldwide so we are taking it slowly. Yet from my experience here in Prowine China, I am impressed by how open minded the local visitors are. Some of them were so curious as they don’t know we are a wine producing country.”
“Of course we want to grow our sales and meet our customers, but joining the fair, I hope we can promote Austrian wines in the market and live up to the legacy of our winemaking tradition.”
The Jurtschitsch Winery
Another member of the Austrian Family Estates, Alwin Jurtschitsch is the adventurous wine maker of the Jurtschitsch Winery in Langenlois. Owning 57 hectares of vineyard, he took over the business from his parents 10 years ago and achieved the status as a certified organic wine producer.
On top of producing wines in a traditional method, Jurtschitsch creates some ‘natural’ wines as well. “I started my first natural wine in 2009. It was a rather funky style back then, but gradually I’m prone to fine tune the wine in a serious manner. Essentially what I want to do is ‘real wines’,” he explained.
He has observed the growing natural wine scene in Asia and exports his wines to markets where the trend is much more strongly entrenched, especially in Japan and Taiwan. At the show, he found people generally showed curiosity towards Austrian wines yet natural wine is still a very new thing in the Chinese market.
The visitors were mainly looking for wines in traditional styles; though once in a while he did bump into some knowledgeable natural wine lovers. He is looking forward to seeing the flourishing of the natural wine scene in China, saying: “China is quick in movement. I can see anything new taking place in the market will grow big in the next one to three years.”
Regarding his first participation at Prowine China, he did not expect much as he is completely new to the market. During his stay in Shanghai, apart from working at the fair, he was enthusiastically checking-out the natural wine bars in Shanghai. “It is a community around the world!” he said.
Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits
An important player in the US wine scene, Josh Cellars and Joseph Carr under Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits made their first appearance at ProWine China this year. “Josh Cellars is one of our most important brands in the US market. It is one of the top premium brands in the domestic market – our Cabernet Sauvignon is the top premium wine above US$10 by volume. The acceleration of growth of our three varietals in the US is exciting.” Dana Ryall, director of international sales, explained.
Currently, exports represent 5% of the company’s total business of its own proprietary brands and Canada followed by Caribbean are the two largest export markets. Steering the interest to European and Asian markets, the company participated ProWine Düsseldorf and China for the first time this year. Ryall said, “being one of the largest in the US, the brand offers three million cases annually. It is time to stretch our wings a little bit but we need to do it in a focused manner.”
He continued, “we started working with a Shanghai importer and exporting a small volume of wines to the region two years ago. China is a big country and I would like to regionalise it to find distributor partners, one in the north, central and south part respectively. This is one of the largest wine shows in China, I expect to meet people from around the country here.”
Right now, the Josh Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon is the only wine selling in China, priced under 200RMB. Yet the wine range he presented at the fair received good response from the visitors. Ryall said, “Chinese people are pleasantly surprised by what is coming out of California these days. Our wines are fruit driven, very approachable, balanced, and easy to follow by varietals.”
Regarding the potential tariff imposed on American wines, he remains optimistic. “Undoubtedly, this will bring disruption in the business, like I feel in the fair there are less people dropping by the California pavilion than others as they may expect the tax increment. However, even so we don’t see this lasting forever. Most importantly, I don’t think it deters people’s love for American wines. It may become slower in the Chinese market, but once the tariff goes away, the market will pick up on it right away again.”
The Drunken Horse
Belgium gin The Drunken Horse is a garage project founded by three best friends and gin lovers two years ago. The London dry gin has a fruity profile with a spicy punch, thanks to a special key ingredient – timut, a tiny pepper grown at altitudes higher than 2,000 meters on the Nepalese side of the Himalayas.
This year The Drunken Horse has produced just 8,000 bottles and has some representation in top restaurants in Europe. Meanwhile the trio have been actively looking for further export opportunities.
Several awards at Asian-based competitions has given them much confidence for their attempt to expand in Asia. “We think the smooth roundness of our gin is suitable for Asians. We are interested in the Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and China markets; among the four, China may be the one with the least preference for gin as the current spirit culture here is mainly baijiu and Cognac-driven – yet we take it as an opportunity and maybe we can find something.” Tom van Nuffelen, one of the founders, said.
“Gin is a great product when it comes to export as the production time only needs three weeks, we can easily adjust the volume based on the orders.”