China has now overtaken France as a wine producer and Chinese reds have been winning more and more international awards. Things don't look good for France, says DW's Beijing columnist Frank Sieren.
Wine was cultivated in China back in ancient times, but this did not improve the reputation of China's grape beverage – quite the contrary.
Five years ago no one would have believed that one day, a wine called "Imperial Horse" or "Château Changyu" would be serious competition for French Bordeaux. The wine and the industry have been modernized.
When the Chinese began to drink wine, it was still regarded as a luxury. Domestic wine was not expensive but it didn't taste good. The abundance of imported wines, especially French Bordeaux, is quite conspicuous in Chinese supermarkets. They account for about 50% of all imported wines. And the same applies vice-versa: In terms of volume, China is by far France's most important export market. About 25% of all Bordeaux wines are sold in China and Hong Kong.
So whoever wanted to show off in China, splurged on a Saint-Emilion or a Château Lafite – but not anymore.
In 2012, when it seemed like the sky was the limit for the Chinese desire of French red wine, Bordeaux exports slumped by 18 % within a year. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, ever since state and party leader Xi Jinping launched his anti-corruption campaign, expensive gifts or business meals are no longer en vogue. And secondly, domestic wine production has improved in recent years. The Chinese drink more and more local products. In the past year, China has cultivated 799,000 hectares of wine grapes and, for the first time, has pushed France down to third place according to figures from the International Organization of Wine and Vine.
Wine becoming more popular
No wonder China has been importing fewer wines from abroad and even wants to advance to the status of wine exporter. Since 2013, they have officially been the biggest wine drinkers in the world. With more than 1.865 billion bottles drunk annually, they have overtaken the French as the biggest red wine drinkers in the world. And a study by the leading French wine fair Vinexpo shows that this trend will continue. By 2017, Chinese wine consumption will have increased by 33%. The wine market in China is still young and has huge growth potential.
Meanwhile, the Chinese province of Ningxia has become the youngest internationally recognized wine region in the world. Its dry, sunny climate and fertile soil provide good conditions for top wines. In the past decade, this region has developed rapidly. Although the wineries are rather small, their particularly good wines constantly stand out on the international market.
Take Helan Qing Xue, for instance. Its wines are constantly awarded the prestigious British wine prize "World Wine Awards". And Helan Qing Xue is still a young winery, which was just established in 2005. "France, look out!" says Jancis Robinson. Aside from Robert Parker, she is the most famous wine connoisseur in the world and has rated five wines from Ningxia as "excellent". And she probably knows what she's talking about.
Foreign producers are now in China
Germans and Americans have already settled in Ningxia. Even the French group Pernod Ricard has been cultivating red wine in Ningxia since 2012. The region wants to produce more wine than Australia by 2020. The fact that the Chinese are the biggest wine drinkers in the world is only true when global volume is considered. If you look at annual per capita consumption, China still lags behind: The Chinese drink two glasses of wine per capita each year, while the French are at 50 bottles of wine per capita each year. In this regard, the Chinese will have to strain themselves some more until their wine-drinking average causes headaches.
DW columnist Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for 20 years.