California targets China's young professionals

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  • Thursday 14 November 2013

California wineries are looking to make up for lost time in China by targeting young professionals who are serious about their wine but willing to branch out from an older generation that has eyes only for France.

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The US sunshine state believes so-called 'young millenials' will be key to its success with wine in China. 'We need to connect with that generation,' Linsey Gallagher, vice president of international marketing at the California-based Wine Institute, told decanter.com.

'A lot of them don't know that California is the fourth largest wine producer in the world,' she said, speaking at the ProWine trade show in Shanghai. While France still has an unmatched prestige for many in China, several younger wine drinkers and professionals have told decanter.com of their generation's desire to experiment further afield, and especially in the New World.  

Next year, more tourists from China are forecast to visit California than from any other country, according to Gallagher.

Exports of US wine to China rose by 18% in 2012, to US$74m, and California accounts for around 90% of US wine exports to most major markets.

That is still some way behind the largest markets, the European Union and Canada, which accounted for just over $900m-worth of US wine exports combined in the same year.

Many representing California at ProWine believe it is a long game in China. 'France has been here 20 years, but we've only come to the market recently,' said Diane Long, executive director of the California-China Office of Trade and Investment.

Like others at the show, she spoke of the need to drain current excess stocks of wine in the Chinese market in the short-term. The country is facing a 'hardening of the arteries' as wine orders from government officials have weakened.

Still, California is making its presence felt. Basketball player Yao Ming has already proved something of a one-man marketing machine with his super-premium Napa wines.  

Long said the recent California wine week in Shanghai brought 120,000 people out onto the city's streets over a five-day period, with wines priced between the equivalent of US$10 and $100. 'Everyone sold thousands of dollars-worth of wine,' she said.

All US wine regions have also banded together in China to form the American Wine Importers' Association, formed in the last few months and also based in Shanghai.

Gallagher believes there are 19m people 'who can afford to drink wine' in China, and around 45% of them reside in Shanghai. That number may seem relatively low versus the country's 1.3bn population, 'but, four years ago, it was 12m people', she said.

'A lot of people describe China as being like Japan 25 years ago. But I think China will catch up faster.'

For Bob Williams, senior partner at Evolution Time International, which represents several Californian wineries, including Doce Robles and Frank Family Vineyards, it's all about boots on the ground. 'It's glass by glass. We try to do six to eight shows per year in China.'

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