China’s Booming Wine Market Can Boost South

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

A great South-South opportunity has emerged with the recent boom in wine drinking in China and the pursuit of quality tastes. Matching high-quality wine producers from the global South – including South Africa, Chile, Morocco, and Lebanon – with China’s thirsty wine drinkers could deliver a major income boost.

In the past year China has become the world’s fastest-growing wine market with newly wealthy seeking sophisticated tastes and young working women seeking the health benefits of wine (http://www.healthtree.com/articles/red-wine/). Yearly wine consumption in China is expected to increase by 20 percent to 126.4 million cases by 2014, a fact that is grabbing the attention of old and new-world wine producers.

Women are driving China’s growing market for wine, which is perceived as a symbol of affluence, a benefit to health – in moderation – and good for the skin. A new report from the International Wine and Spirit Research (IWSR) group says wine consumption in China and Hong Kong jumped 100 per cent between 2005 and 2009, from 46.9 million to 95.9 million cases.

Import taxes have been reduced as China entered the World Trade Organization (WTO), and this has prompted foreign wine brands to lunge into the market.

The government is trying to get people to switch away from high-strength alcoholic drinks by increasing the tax on them.

Awareness and experience varies widely amongst the winemakers of the global South. Some countries, such as South Africa, Chile and Argentina, have long-standing international reputations for producing quality wine, and use sophisticated branding and marketing campaigns to connect with their customers. But other countries, including Lebanon, Tunisia and Zimbabwe, have lower profiles and do not pack the same brand punch. But all these countries help show the role viticulture can play in economic development. By tapping into this Chinese wine drinking boom, they could reap rich rewards.

In Lebanon, viticulture – the harvesting of grapes for wine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viticulture) – has prospered despite the country’s wars and instability.

Lebanon has a long and illustrious history of winemaking stretching back 5,000 years. The modern Lebanese wine industry dates itself from 1857, when Jesuit monks at Ksara in the Bekaa Valley began importing vines from Algeria. After World War I, when the French took control of Lebanon, its vineyards expanded to satisfy France’s thirsty imperial troops.

Then Lebanon was hit by the brutal civil war of the 70s and 80s. And things have remained unstable and uncertain since.

But despite this, well established businesses like Ksara (http://www.ksara.com.lb/), Kefraya (http://www.chateaukefraya.com/) and Musar (http://www.chateaumusar.com.lb/english/cave.aspx), and small boutique producers, thrive.

Massaya (http://www.massaya.com/old/wine.htm) is one of Lebanon’s most dynamic and successful wineries, owned by brothers Sami and Ramzi Ghosn. Both are Christians like many of the Lebanese winemakers. They have been able to succeed in an area fraught with tension from past conflicts.

Another winery is using the business to revive a community and restore old skills. In the hills east of Beirut, the BBC found Naji Boutros – who used to be an investment banker in London – and his wife Jill. Boutros started Chateau Belle-Vue in Bhamdoun (http://www.chateaubelle-vue.com/), in the village where he grew up. As well as producing wine, the Chateau finances community projects and a library.

The two kings in the global South of wine exports are South Africa and Chile. Both countries have very strong brand awareness in export markets and both have triumphed after years of boycotts due to the political situations in the respective countries (Chile’s military dictatorship and South Africa’s Apartheid regime).

Wine-making is one of South Africa’s oldest industries and plays a key part in the economy (http://www.wine.co.za/), with exports growing from less than 50 million litres in 1994 to more than 400 million litres in 2008 – year-on-year growth of 17 percent.

Since the end of the racist Apartheid regime (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Africa_under_apartheid) in the mid-1990s, various government and industry initiatives have begun to reverse the iniquities of the country’s wine-making industry. South Africa has been pioneering switching black Africans on to the pleasures and profits of wine making and drinking.

Like Argentina, Chile (http://www.winesofchile.org/) has a strategic plan for its wine industry by 2020. It hopes to be “the Number One producer of sustainable and diverse premium wines from the New World by the year 2020.”

Chile – recovering from the severe earthquake on February 27, 2010 – uses a sophisticated marketing strategy to promote its wines, including websites, social networking media and events and tastings. Since 2007, it has unified its marketing efforts under one umbrella organization, the Vinos de Chile, and it also offers wine tourism to further develop a close relationship with drinkers, The Wines of Chile Experience (http://www.chilewinetourism.com/), launched in 2010.

Chile’s neighbour Argentina (http://www.winesofargentina.org/) is the world’s fifth largest producer of wine,

The country has seen its domestic consumption of wine shrink as tastes changed, and has also experienced very extreme economic fluctuations. It has had to raise its game in order to earn income from exporting. This has been a spur to the wine industry and it has seen growth since 1996.

Wine growing has a long history in Argentina, going back to its Spanish colonial foundations in the 1500s. Argentineans drank large quantities of wine domestically in the 1970s but this tailed off in the later decades.

That had been balanced by a great export success with wines from the malbec grape. The flavour of this wine and its brand image has proven to be a weighty ambassador for Argentinean wines in general. By keeping a competitive price, Argentinean wine has flourished during the global economic crisis as people have moved to less expensive brands. The country cleverly has a wine marketing strategy based on Australia’s experience. This is an ambitious plan with the goal of capturing 10 percent of the global wine market share by 2020.

Argentina also aggressively pursues new markets by visiting them regularly and doing wine promotions and tastings with potential customers. It also brings people to the country to visit the wineries and experience Argentinean culture and food.

In North Africa, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco have a long history cultivating wine and have been winning awards since the 1859 Fall Exposition in Paris. Over the years quality control was an issue as political and economic factors disrupted access to global markets. But in the last few years governments have been working to support the industry and regain its past reputation.

Winemaking in North Africa goes back to the Romans and the Phoenicians. Despite Islam prohibiting the consumption of alcohol, the industry has survived. The industry is currently being re-organized to make the most of a free trade agreement with the European Union.

Tunisia has a long, rich winemaking heritage known the world over. About half of Tunisia’s vineyards are dedicated to producing grapes for wine production rather than for sale as table grapes.

Over the last 20 years, Les Vignerons de Carthage, a cooperative of 10 cellars located in the Cap Bon region of Northern Tunisia, have been working under the leadership of Belgacem D’Khili, a Bordeaux trained oenologist to improve and maintain wine quality.

They have kept the old vines, persevered with hand-harvesting and traditional techniques, but have modernised the cellar equipment, the storage and overall approach to hygiene.

North African wines are being collectively marketed by resellers like Cotes d’Afrique (http://www.cotes-d-afrique.co.uk/tunisianwine/history.aspx).

Morocco, too, has become a respected wine maker and has a robust domestic wine-drinking market. Morocco’s oldest winery, Celliers de Meknes (http://www.lescelliersdemeknes.net/), told the Global Post how it handles the delicacies of wine-making in a majority Muslim country.

“We are tolerated,” said Jean-Pierre Dehut, the export manager for Celliers de Meknes. “But the tolerance requires that we stay within certain boundaries.”

Celliers de Meknes sells some 30 million bottles of wine per year — 25 million in Morocco.

A little-known wine producer, Zimbabwe has been producing wines since the early 1950s and commercially since 1965, according to Zimbabwe Tourism. Production peaked in the 1980s and later suffered from an export ban. Despite the country’s economic and political problems, the wine industry has grown. New techniques, equipment and grape varietals have been introduced and winemakers have been trained in Germany, Australia and South Africa. Regular visits from outside consultants have helped with raising standards.

Apart from economic problems the industry struggled with viruses and climate. But since the 1990s the industry has started to win international wine competitions

One of the successful wineries is Mukuyu Winery (http://www.africanbeersandwine.com/pages/wine.html), which produces an average of 1.5 million litres per year from 100 hectares under vines. Over the past 13 years, Mukuyu wines have won Silver and Bronze medals at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London, and regional wine tasting competitions in South Africa.

Resources

1) China Wines Information Website: A website with the latest news and events on China’s fast-growing wine market. Website: http://www.wines-info.com/en/index.aspx

2) Interwine China 2011: The 6th China (Guangzhou) International Wine and Spirits Exhibition and World Famous Wine Expo, May 25th to 27th, 2011. Website: http://www.interwine.org/interwine/pages/2010/index.interwine

3) Shenzhen International Wine Hub: Shenzhen International Wine Hub is located in downtown Longgang, and is designed to provide an unprecedented one-stop platform for all wine-related business, integrating product exhibition, wine trading, wine information and statistics publishing, wine knowledge training, quality examination and evaluation, wine culture showcasing as well as food and recreation. Website: http://www.szwinehub.com/en/

4) Zimbabwe Tourism: Website: http://www.zimbabwetourism.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=119&Itemid=144

5) Soweto Wine Festival: Website: http://www.sowetowinefestival.co.za/About.htm

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