Will Yunnan Red please Europe?
FOR years, the Chinese have been buying up wine from Europe, but with domestic wine production predicted to overtake that of Australia and Chile by next year, Ms Tiana Wu is hoping European drinkers are ready to be tempted by a glass of her "Yunnan Red".
"We produce one million cases per year. We're exploring the possibility of exporting," Ms Wu said at the Vinexpo in Bordeaux, one of the world's largest wine and spirit fairs.
"Our wines have a unique taste, and we want to see if consumers here accept it or not," added Ms Wu, whose family runs a wine business, Yunnan Red, in China's southern Yunnan province.
Vinexpo chief Robert Beynat said China's growing domestic wine production has enabled it to steadily climb the ranks of wine- producing countries.
"By next year, we expect them to be No. 6, ahead of Australia, Chile and a lot of countries. We are very happy about that," he said.
"Why? Because the more a country produces, the more wine a country drinks, and the more it drinks, the more it imports. This is the story of America 50 years ago."
The big question for Chinese producers, however, is whether or not their wine - and other potential alcoholic exports - will please Western palates.
Following the Chinese acquisition of Bordeaux vineyards in recent years, the producers of French wine now include Chinese owners. Mr Zhang Jinshan, a tycoon who has been producing Goji-berry-based alcohol for 30 years, acquired Chateau du Grand Moueys, a historic estate in Bordeaux's Entre-Deux-Mers region where he also plans to build a golf course and spa.
Exhibiting for the first time at Vinexpo, Mr Zhang displayed his Bordeaux wine, along with his Chinese alcohol - with an eye on exporting some of his 10-million-bottle production - and a clear game plan.
Outlining his game plan, he said: "We bought the chateau. Now we will create a wine-merchant business to buy other wines to sell in China, and then we will import Chinese wine into Europe."
But while Mr Zhang said he found it fairly easy to adapt to winemaking, the language, culture and business practices in Europe presented a challenge, though he remains optimistic.
"We will adapt, we will understand them and we will work in harmony," he said.
Vinexpo research estimates that the number of potential wine drinkers in China could be between 200 million and 250 million.
But Mr Beynat warned that per capita consumption remained small - 1.4 litres per person per year versus 12 litres per year for Americans, 52 litres for the French and 23 litres for Britons.
Nevertheless, the record number of Chinese wine professionals at Vinexpo was fresh confirmation of the rapidly-developing nation's influence, both as consumers and producers, he said.
"For exhibitors, there are more Chinese, mostly in the spirit industry. In 2011 we had two, this year we accepted 18," he said, adding that Vinexpo would even hold an event in Beijing in November next year.
Between last year and 2016, it is expected that wine consumption in China will increase by 40 per cent, making it the second-most-lucrative market after the United States.