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Avoid China ‘gimmicks’, says Summergate

In five years' time the most important wine brands in China will be mid-market wines from the New World, a major importer has said.

Ian Ford, managing partner of Shanghai-based Summergate, one of the three biggest mainland-based importers, said Chinese consumers will ‘move away from image-hunting and begin to buy much more on knowledge.’

‘The professional middle classes are constantly expanding their knowledge. They are going to start buying wines they enjoy to drink and that are produced in quantities that can sustain that level of export.’

Ford suggested wines such as d’Arenberg’s The Stump Jump or Concha y Toro’s Casillero del Diablo – both of which Summergate imports – as likely candidates.

At the same time the Bordeaux hegemony in China will be neutralized. ‘ Bordeaux will stay on the radar, but its popularity is a vicious cycle: the perception is that it is the only region people are interested in, therefore that is all that is offered to them.’

In terms of demand, Burgundy is fast becoming the most sought-after region after Bordeaux, but its wines are not produced in anything like the quantities necessary to satisfy a market the size of China.

While Ford said that except for the top end of well-informed wine buyers, the vast majority of consumers ‘buy on label, not on taste’, he warned against attempting to woo the Chinese market with gimmicks.

He mentioned specifically the Chinese symbol for 8 etched in red on the Chateau Lafite 2008.

The number 8, supposedly a lucky number in China, electrified sales of the wine amongst high-end Chinese buyers, as merchants confirmed at the time. But it might have backfired with less canny consumers.

‘Unless the buyer understands the credentials of the wine he’s being presented with, he may think either it’s a gimmick that was done just for China, or that the wine was somehow made in China.

‘You can run the risk of seeming to pander to the Chinese market.’

Ford said the Chinese market for imported wine by 2015 could be ‘50-60m cases’. At present China imports some 23m cases, up from 16m last year.

According to figures from International Wine and Spirit Research (IWSR) released in January this year, consumption of wine by China and Hong Kong increased by over 100% between 2005 and 2009, from 46.9m to 95.9m cases.

Written by Adam Lechmere

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