Red wine goes down well with China's growing middle class

Esther Han
Glass full … Wynwood Estate's executive director, Michelle Jin. Wynwood is one of three wineries bought by the ...
Glass full … Wynwood Estate's executive director, Michelle Jin. Wynwood is one of three wineries bought by the China-based Winston Wines, which is keen to export reds. Photo: Peter Stoop

AUSTRALIAN red wine has become a gift of choice for Chinese bosses looking for the perfect something for their employees, driving a boom in exports of reds to China.

Chinese interests are also showing a keen interest in buying Australian wineries to export reds, with Xiamen-based Winston Wines buying two wineries in the Hunter Valley in the past two years, Wynwood and Capercaillie, and Ross in the Barossa Valley.

A Winston Wines director, Michelle Jin, said: ''The Chinese are drinking more wine now because of the increased trade possibilities - they simply have a lot more access to Australian wine than ever before.''

The Chinese desire for red wine is not just based on taste and quality, but colour.

Red symbolises joy and prosperity, making a splash of Australian cabernet sauvignon a perfect accompaniment to Chinese New Year.

John Davis, the owner of Pepper Tree Wines in the Hunter Valley, started his foray into the Chinese market by selling 10,000 litres of red in 2005.

Last year he sold almost five times as much, and plans to open an office in Shanghai as soon as he hits 200,000 litres.

"We sold a thousand cases of wines to a Chinese corporation who wanted to give them away to employees,'' he said. "We're focusing … on China.''

China accounted for nearly 40 million litres of red wine exports last year, up from half a million a decade ago. NSW contributed a quarter of that, figures from Wine Australia show.


From about 1400 wineries exporting overseas, Wine Australia estimates about 800 are exporting to China.

In 2006 Westend Estate Wines in Griffith began a joint venture with a Chinese clothing entrepreneur, Yonggang Zheng, whose Shanshan Group manufactures for well-known brands including Le Coq Sportif.

"It has exploded," Westend's chief winemaker, Bryan Currie, said. ''China is where most of our wines are now sold. Luckily for us our red wines go well with Chinese food.'' He believes sales will continue to boom as China's middle class - and the size of its disposable incomes - expands.

It is not just local businesses that stand to benefit from China's insatiable thirst. Chinese investors have snapped up vineyards and wineries with the goal of exporting premium reds.

Alan Jurd, from Jurd's Real Estate in the Hunter Valley, is negotiating six wine properties with Chinese buyers. He said 70 per cent of transactions last year were with Chinese businessmen buying properties worth $1.5 million to $5 million.