Dan's Blog

China In Context

Friday, June 14, 2019

Having recently spent a few days in Yantai and Penglai for the WBWE Asia (World Bulk Wine Exhibition), I thought it appropriate to do a China update.

Despite figures showing that wine imports have flatlined, the wine scene in China is booming, with the country set to knock France off its perch as the No.2 wine market in the world behind the USA. While in France the younger generation are turning away from wine (because it is seen as “an old folks drink”), in China there are around 5,000,000 people entering the middle-class each year and a reasonable portion of those take to drinking wine as part of the “achieving a western life style” (which also includes owning a decent car and other tangible evidence of having “made it”).

The US market is currently worth US$38.4 billion, France $16.7 billion and China $16.5 billion. Out of that $16.5 billion, Australia supplied just under $1.0 billion and the French around $1.5 billion and then the next five imported countries supplying around $1.0 billion. So that imported wine represents around 25-30% of all the wine sold in China (depending on which figures you use).

The Chinese Government’s current Five-Year Plan (yes they still have those) calls for the doubling of the acreage of grape vines. China is already No.4 grape producer in the world (we are No.5) SO, imagine IF they doubled the acreage to 1,140,000 hectares. They would then be No.1 ahead of Spain with 1,020k ha, France 800k ha and Italy 770k ha. These figures have some wine industry analysts having epileptic fits and panicking about future exports to China.

Ok, so to put this into perspective – the achievement of the Five-Year Plan is quite unlikely for a number of reasons and even then, due to countless incidents of product adulteration in the past, Chinese consumers prefer and have more trust in imported goods than local goods. This is especially prevalent in food stuffs – Remember the melamine in baby milk incident 3-4 years back? Thus while newcomers to the middle-class will probably start wine drinking with locally made wine, as their finances improve, a considerable proportion of these people will trade up to imported wine for both prestige reasons and safety/trust reasons. Current figures suggest that by 2020 (next year) China will have around 70 million regular/semi-regular wine drinkers – That’s nearly three-times our total population!!!

Over the last two years there has been a gradual shift away from French wine towards Australian wine, as our “Clean & Green” environment message starts to sink in with Chinese consumers. To put it into context, in 2003 (when I first became involved with exporting wine to China), Australia was selling approximately 10% of the amount of wine that France was selling to China. Today, that figure is 70% and with our sales still rising and theirs flagging, it won’t be long before we hit the 80% mark and maybe one day the 101% mark – What a day that would be!

YES, the Chinese government is making the process of selling wine into China a bit more challenging these days with restrictions and new regulations on samples, etc. BUT, there are still plenty of opportunities for Australian wine in China, especially if we go about it smartly and continue to promote our Clean & Green image (and politics don’t get involved).

SO, to put China into context – the party ain’t over yet, not by a long shot! BUT, things are getting tougher which makes other Asian countries more attractive to Australian wine exporters and helps avoid the old, “all eggs in one basket” syndrome, should politics interfere with wine sales to China.

In the meantime, if you get the opportunity to taste Chinese wine, please do so. Just like everywhere else in the world, some are very ordinary, some are good and a few are very good like the Organic Grenache I tasted recently in Yantai.

Cheers and enjoy good wines from wherever they come from – especially Australia!


I am always excited when I hear that d’ARENBERG have a new wine in the offing as head genius/oddball, Chester Osborne, has created some sensational wines over the years, both as varietal wines and even more so as blends.

The creativity is not limited to just being in the wine, The Cube is a testament to Chester’s brilliant creativity as is the “movable” label on the sensational, “THE ATHAZAGORAPHOBIC CAT” a smashing blend of SAGRANTINO and CINSAUT. As far as I know, this is the only such blend in the world, and yet it works ever so well.

They have just released another manifestation of Chester’s wine genius, the 2018 d’ARENBERG “THE DANGER MOUSE” McLAREN VALE NERO d’AVOLA.

Some of the more senior (older) amongst you might recall, from when we were young, the great cartoon show on TV by the same name. It was exciting and adventuresome – and so is this wine!

d’ARENBERG’s first NERO d’AVOLA is absolutely smashing! It has deep, dark, dense colour that is almost impenetrable, and gentle but complex aromas of red berries with a whisper of dried herbs.

It explodes onto the palate with a cacophony of rich, complex flavours that delight the palate. It is brilliantly balanced, with multiple layers of flavours and just the right amount of grippiness on the tight, long, lingering finish. BLOODY BRILLIANT!

This is one of the very best Australian Nero’s I have ever tasted.

In a recent conversation with Chester at the outstanding Salvador Dali Exhibition currently residing in the Cube (the visit has been extended to the end of the year), I asked, “What’s next?” and he rattled off a list of other Mediterranean varieties that he is interested in. So all I can say is – “watch this space!”

Cheers and onya Chester!