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WILL CHINA BE NO.1 WINE PRODUCER?

Friday, October 12, 2018

Recently on the ABC’s 7.30 Report there was an interesting piece on the progress of wine in China and how Australian winemakers were helping China towards its aim of being the number one wine producer in the world.

A written version can be seen here www.abc.net.au/news/2018-10-01/australians-helping-china-become-worlds-biggest-wine-maker/10324624?section=word 

After this piece aired, I received phone calls from a few people who in general were concerned about the impact of this on our wine industry.

Here are my thoughts on the matter:

I think it is great that they are developing a viable wine industry and like in most other things they are aiming to become No.1 in the world at it. Much of the help in developing their industry is now coming from Australia. Some of it in the form of consulting Australian winemakers helping to improve the quality of the wines they make. Another important aspect is the training of many of their future winemakers/industry leaders here in Australia, where they learn to appreciate Australian wine whilst learning their craft. The result is that a strong industry bond is building between the two countries.

As Australia found out last century, it takes a considerable amount of time to create sustainably high quality wines. The Chinese wine industry is going through the same process right now. Initially with many of the wine companies that were set up, more money and effort was spent on building the “Chateau” (often a replica of a famous French Chateau) than on the vineyards or winemaking equipment. That has started to change.

Three years apart, I participated in Chinese wine tastings at the Waite Campus of Adelaide University, and over that time frame the quality of the wines tasted had improved considerably.

While China’s wine industry is progressing at a great rate, in part aided by us, they still have a challenge of nature to overcome in the production of world-class wines. That is, that due to the extreme winter cold in the areas where they grow their grapes, they have to bury the vines over the winter months for them to survive.

SO what’s the big deal?

Well firstly, as the vines get older they are much more likely to snap/break as they are bent over to be buried, so “old vine” wines are a rarity with almost all vines being less than 20 years old.

Secondly, their growing season is shorter than in most grape growing regions due to the cold. So that the resultant red wines have much higher levels of malic acid (rather than lactic acid) than ours and other wines, giving them more astringency on the palate and often a green, stalky character – i.e. not as smooth or rich. The top wineries are working on how to overcome this, but it will take time.

Thirdly, unlike in the cold parts of the USA and Europe where varieties are selected carefully for their cold resistance, most of the varieties planted in China, were planted to make French style wines. Thus until very recently much of their vineyards were planted with inappropriate varieties to the climate – much like Pinot Noir was planted in the Barossa until the 1980s (it made drinkable wine but never great wine).

OK, so what does this all mean?

I believe that eventually China will probably become the world’s largest producer of wine. BUT, I do not see that as a threat to our industry for the foreseeable future. In addition to the challenges I outline above, there a number of reasons for this, such as:

1. The Chinese people, with good cause (melamine scandal, etc.) trust imported goods over locally produced goods. This will/is changing but it will take a very long time to occur.

2. The rate of growth of wealth and thus wine consumption in China shows no/little sign of abating while at the same time the popularity of Australian wine keeps on growing.

3. China is not the only country in Asia where wine sales are growing, in fact they are growing in almost all Asian countries and in some, quite spectacularly.

4. Many other countries in Asia have an inherent mistrust of China and will therefore continue to prefer Aussie wine for a very long time after China starts to export their wines. Providing we do things properly and don’t stuff up!

Hey! I think it would be cool to enjoy a bottle of quality Chinese wine (especially Marselan – Have you heard of it?) with a meal at a Chinese restaurant, in your city whilst also being able enjoy a good bottle of Aussie wine wherever you go in Asia. Gambai!

THIS WEEK’S WINE REVIEW:

This week I am talking about ROBERT STEIN WINERY & VINEYARD from Mudgee.

A few days ago I received a press release from David Cumming at Define Wine advising that ROBERT STEIN wines had just won seven trophies at this year’s Mudgee Wine Show, including Champion Wine of the Show. OH! They also won nine gold medals and winemaker, Jacob Stein, was crowned Winemaker of the Year. What an awesome result!

If one even thinks about the wines of Mudgee, one thinks of Chardonnay, Semillon, Cabernet and Shiraz. Riesling is not a variety that readily comes to mind for Mudgee, and yet their top wine was in fact the ROBERT STEIN 2016 MUDGEE RIESLING winning three trophies and a gold medal. A totally brilliant outcome worthy of being lauded.

 

The sceptics amongst you will say, “Yes, but it is only the Mudgee Wine Show.” However, you have to recognise that as a regional wine show it is a “straight shoot out” between the region’s wineries and that makes the ROBERT STEIN result outstanding. I don’t hear people saying, “Ah yes, but that is only the Bushing Festival” when the announcement is made of McLaren Vale’s top dog. People just praise the winner.

As a result of receiving this press release, I went back through my tasting notes for the last twelve months and found that I was impressed and “waxed lyrically” about each and every ROBERT STEIN wine I had reviewed – which is no mean feat in itself.

 

So whilst I am not reviewing any specific wine this week, I can tell you that in my opinion the wines of ROBERT STEIN are excellent, superb and certainly worth enjoying. www.robertstein.com.au

These days Define Wine regularly send me samples of new releases from Mudgee, Orange and/or the Southern Highlands to review for social media. Over the last 2-3 years I have seen some absolute cracker wines coming from these usually forgotten regions. So please don’t disregard lesser known wine regions just because they are lesser known. After all McLaren Vale was almost an unknown wine region a mere 30 years or so ago, and today it is world renowned. GO MUDGEE! www.definewine.com.au

STOP PRESS: As we were about to load this up on the website, we received samples of the latest ROBERT STEIN RIESLING’s – the 2018 DRY RIESLING and the 2018 HALF DRY RIESLING. So I will update next week once I have had a chance to review them.

Have a great week and enjoy fabulous Aussie wines. Cheers!