Tapping into local tastes key to success in China

Atlas Wine Group - Thursday, June 14, 2012
One of China’s largest wine importers has said that pinpointing different tastes across China’s provinces could be key to successfully marketing a wider array of wines.

Speaking to the drinks business, XuGuang Chen, vice-general manager of C&D International, said that while Bordeaux was indisputably still the most important wine for most Chinese, he was “confident of success in the market” with New World wines and stated that, sold in the right place, white wines were increasingly popular.

He noted that white wines were growing in popularity in particular in the coastal provinces of Fujian and Guangdong.

In Fujian Province he added that German Riesling is especially popular, helped by relatively low prices.

His strategy for China therefore is very much one of identifying styles that work in particular regions – sometimes led by cuisine – and pushing the appropriate wine.

He said: “Where there is more seafood we find there is a greater acceptance of white wines so we push it in these provinces.

“Elsewhere though it is still a very small part of our business. The focus in the rest of China is still on red.”

To show just how small white wine still is he said that of the 12 million bottles of wine C&D imported last year, only 20% were white and 30% to 40% alone was sold in Fujian.

Sparkling wines present more of a problem in Chen’s opinion. It is a still a category not widely understood by most Chinese and it does not suit the “gambei” drinking custom.

“Imports of sparkling wine have just started and most Chinese cannot distinguish between a sparkling wine and Champagne,” he continued.

“In China we also drink by doing toasts (gambei) and this is very difficult with sparkling wine.”

Again, figures show how low sparkling wine imports are. Chen said the latest figures recorded 320m bottles imported into China last year, of that just 3.9m or 1% were sparkling.

France took the lion’s share of imports with 1.4m bottles and Italy wasn’t far behind on 1.2m bottles. The remainder was split between other countries.

Chen also touched upon the eagerness among Chinese consumers for education on wine – even if it is an education based more on history than on wine appreciation as it might be in the west.

“Chinese consumers like to know about the customs and traditions of wine,” he said. “Every year we invite over 1,000 people to travel with us to Europe to visit the vineyards.”

C&D also runs more traditional tastings and seminars in China and Chen was particularly struck on his visit to London by the concept of blind tasting – he was in London for the Seña tasting last month.

“We don’t have a lot of blind tasting in China. It is very interesting and it has certainly given me confidence in the quality of Seña to compare it with the likes of Lafite and Mouton Rothschild and see the end result.”

Founded in 1998, Xiamen C&D International is one of the biggest Chinese wine importers and the biggest Bordeaux buyer. It operates a distribution chain with over 2,000 distributors across the country as well as owning 10 shops in major cities, under the name Château & Domaine.

In 2010 it became an importer and distributor for the five first growths.

Source: Rupert Millar the Drinks Business

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