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China wine potential beats US, says NZ estate owner

The owner of New Zealand's Jackson Estate has said he sees more growth opportunities in China than in the world's largest wine market, the US.

(Jackson Estate head winemaker Matt Patterson-Green)

John Stichbury
, a fifth generation Jackson family member, told decanter.com that his ancestry carries gravitas in China. ‘Our advantage is our history,’ he said.

His family has farmed the same land in Marlborough since the 1850s, although the first vines were planted by Stichbury and his wife, Jo, in 1987.

He is more focused on growing sales in China than in the US, despite the latter’s status as the world’s biggest wine consumer.

Inter-state shipping restrictions mean the US should really be seen as a collection of individual states, Stichbury argued. ‘We are there, but it’s hard. We’ve chosen to park that a little bit.’

Yet, China remains a work in progress for the firm, which still relies on the UK for half of its volume sales. It declined to disclose full production figures.

There’s a similar story for much of New Zealand’s wine industry. China has displaced the Netherlands as New Zealand’s fifth largest wine export market, with shipments up by 6% in value for the year to the end of June 2013, according to the latest annual report by trade body New Zealand Winegrowers.

But, China and Hong Kong combined still only accounted for NZ$47.4m, a figure eclipsed by exports to Australia, the US, UK and Canada, which totalled NZ$1bn over the same 12 months.

‘We have two wine shops in China,’ said Stichbury. ‘They haven’t generated massive sales, but all of these things take time. We don’t want to westernise the Chinese, we just want to modernise them to [appreciate] the New Zealand style.’

That style will increasingly reflect a more complex, concentrated version of Pinot Noir from clay soils in Marlborough’s southern valleys, according to Jackson Estate head winemaker Matt Patterson-Green. ‘Within five to seven years, Marlborough will be known just as much for Pinot Noir as it is for Sauvignon Blanc,’ he said.

Jackson Estate works with two other New Zealand wineries, Marisco and Wairau River Wines, in China.

Some recent reports have claimed that China’s counterfeiters have begun targeting top New Zealand wines. Both Stichbury and New Zealand Winegrowers told decanter.com that they are unaware of any problems.

Still, the industry is raising the pressure on New Zealand’s government to formally implement a register of Geographical Indications for key wine areas, to improve estates’ intellectual property rights. ‘This will bring us into line with most other wine countries,’ said John Barker, general manager for advocacy and trade at NZ Winegrowers.

A government spokesperson told decanter.com that it is considering the industry’s request.

Written by Chris Mercer

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