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Asia

German winemakers seek to win over the Chinese

Not many Chinese people think of wine when it comes to Germany's finer exports. They think of cars, machines and possibly beer. German vinters and the German Wine Institute hope to change this.

Two men look into their wine glasses skeptically. They have been walking around the wine fair in the western Chinese city of Chengdu all day and tasting the offers. Chengdu is one of the country's most prominent wine markets. Now they have arrived at the German wine stands.

"White wine from Germany is okay," one man comments. "But the red wine is much different than French wine. German wine is light. I prefer robust ones."

"I don't really like this one here," the other man says. "It tastes sour. I am trying riesling now. This kind is well known. But it does not meet my expectations."

Status symbols

German wine does not have it easy in China. The Chinese love red wine, but Germany is more of a white wine country. Chinese people also tend to buy wine similarly to the way they buy cars - the brand has to stand out.

These white grapes are growing on the slopes of the Mosel valley above Bernkastel overlooking the river. The Riesling grapes are used to make wine.01/09/08

Germany is well known for its white wine - but not necessarily in China

That becomes obvious at the wine fair. There are over 100 French vintners, dozens of Italian ones and numerous representatives of Spanish wine. But there is only one winemaker from Germany: the winery Jakob Gerhardt from Rheinehessen. Its representative, Oliver Altmann, is something of a pioneer. Many Chinese people don't know much about wine, he says.

"I wish they didn't chase images so much. They should listen to their taste buds. To what really tastes good to them. If they did that, they will have come a long way. The whole Chinese wine market will have come a long way."

China's wine market is dominated by the French. Over 50 percent of imported wine comes from France. Labels like Chateau Lafite or Mouton have a cult status among the country's nouveau-riche. German wines are much less glamorous but nonetheless equal in taste to their French counterparts, says Monika Reule, CEO of the German Wine Institute. She markets German wine around the world - in China, too.

Delicate structure

"Our only disadvantage is that German wines are not very well known. We have no real image - good or bad."

Red wine in a glass

Red wine fairs better on the Chinese market

The German wine industry is looking to create a niche for both riesling and sweet wine. The German Wine Institute has only been active in China for about two years. It is planning to organize trade fairs exclusively for German wine where vintners will be able to make contacts with merchants. Restaurants are also seen as a way to gain a foothold.

"We are trying to appeal to Asian chefs and restaurant owners because we believe that German wines, with delicate structure, minerals and natural fruitiness, fit quite well in Asian cuisine," Reule explains.

The wine institute has published a brochure on German wine in Chinese. Their endeavors appear worthwhile - with China the fastest growing consumer market for German wine. Last year, the market grew by 19 percent. A total of 40,000 hectoliters were sold, making China number 8 on the list of countries that import German wine.

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