China – the final frontier for Australian wine


There is fierce global competition for China’s wine market making it essential Australia brands its wines accordingly writes Jeremy Oliver.

The entire world of wine has China in its sights. That much is patently obvious to anyone resident in China’s major cities or who has visited them recently. Wine is part of the international modus operandi that is becoming more at home in this and other Asian countries. Fuelled by such phenomena as the rapidly changing restaurant scene in cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and others, the tightening relationship between the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong as well as the increasing way in which Chinese people are travelling, buying property outside China and being educated elsewhere, it is only natural that wine is becoming more of a regular Chinese experience.
By removing wine’s wholesale tax in Hong Kong (also in Macau), the Chinese government has sent a clear signal that it wants Hong Kong to become the focal point of the world wine trade. A Christie’s wine auction out of Hong Kong in early December cleared record sales totalling more than US$5 million (about a quarter of the entire value of the Australian wine auction market), China’s optimism looks more than justified. Look at the planned infrastructure links between Hong Kong and several southern Chinese cities, and this market looks more important by the day. Contrary to the views of some sceptics, I am very confident in the likelihood of the broader Chinese population adopting wine.
It’s not going to happen overnight all over this huge country, but recent experiences in secondary cities have confirmed to me that there are plenty of people ready, waiting and willing, right now.
While elements of its highly varied regional cuisines are indeed more challenging to match with wine, I am also confident that wine can slot neatly into the way that Chinese dine with their own cuisines.
The “gan bei” (bottoms up) culture does indeed need to be overcome with wine, but I’d rather deal with this than be trying to introduce wine into a culture that doesn’t appreciate or enjoy drinking alcoholic beverages. On a positive note, there is a massive wine educational industry developing across a number of major cities.
Right now, with the Australian wine industry in nothing short of a genuine crisis, it is critical that we get China right. The market needs a focus, resourcing and regular service, for Australia has anything but this market to itself. Most wine producing countries are hoping that China will deliver the miracle that returns their wine industries to prosperity, so the competition is fierce. Based on significantly larger industries than Australia’s, the European countries of France, Italy and Spain are spending promotional budgets in China that we cannot come close to matching. Despite our close economic ties, the number of Chinese students being educated in Australia and our two centuries of cultural connections, it is by no means certain that Australia will ultimately take full advantage of the opportunity presented by China. There is already an entirely unregulated flow of poor bulk Australian wine being exported to China, at extremely low prices. There are already questionable Australian wine brands that are supposedly tailored to the Chinese tasting and label culture, most of which miss the mark and devalue the Australian offering.
Some of our largest wine producers are also engaged in a parallel importing mindset that undermines the attempts of their own appointed importers to build their own brands in China.
Furthermore, there is a plethora of labels produced by Chinese would-be permanent residents in Australia engaged in establishing largely unprofitable wine export businesses from Australia, with a view towards qualifying for permanent residency in Australia.
Typically, their wines are poorly made, packaged and marketed, but their owners do not care. Neither does it matter to them if these wines are sold or not. There is no logical reason why the credibility of Australian wine should be put to risk by aspirant residents of this country, yet that is what is happening right now.

*Jeremy Oliver has been a professional wine critic and commentator for 25 years. Jeremy regularly travels around the region hosting events and promoting Australian wines – 27 events across China in 2009 alone. Jeremy released his first wine appreciation book in Mandarin last year with the aim of educating the market and pushing it towards an Australian direction.

For more information visit Jeremy’s website:


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