Boutique chateau, wine giant and a grape personality

Updated: 2012-06-03 08:02

By Ye Jun in Hong Kong (China Daily)

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Boutique chateau, wine giant and a grape personality

Chinese wine-maker Changyu's booth at Vinexpo attracted much attention. [Photos by Ye Jun / China Daily]

On the first day of Vinexpo, Hansen, a Chinese winery in Wuhai, Inner Mongolia received some good news. Its Cabernet-Gernischt Wuhai Valley 2011 was commended at the 2012 Decanter World Wine Awards.

That is not the only wine French winemaker Bruno Paumard had to show off to visitors at Vinexpo. Chateau Hansen 2009, a blend of three grape varietals, has already got four international awards - including a Berlin gold at the 16th Berlin Wine Trophy 2012 by the OIV (International Organization of Vine and Wine).

Although he's looking for export opportunities, Paumard says his primary interest is still in the Chinese market.

"Only 1 percent of our sales are for export. I come to the expo, get the medals and awards only for image," he says.

"I even sell at a discount to the foreign market. But it is only so we can boost sales in the Chinese market. That's our only purpose."

Sun Jian, deputy general manager of Changyu Pioneer Wine Company from Yantai, says he came to Vinexpo with his head held high.

There certainly is no need for an inferiority complex.

His company produced 150,000 metric tons of wine last year, or 200 million bottles. Last year, t

Boutique chateau, wine giant and a grape personality

he company showed a profit of 2 billion yuan ($313.9 million). Changyu has 20,000 hectares of vineyard, making up nearly 30 percent of the total in China.

"Very few companies at the Vinexpo have vineyards bigger than that," says Sun.

Although Changyu sells to more than 30 countries worldwide, its overseas sales is less than 10 percent of total output.

Sun attributes Changyu's success to its strategy of concentrating on the mid- and high-end market, and a strong marketing team of 3,700.

Judy Leissner of Grace Vineyard, voted Wine Personality of the year at Vinexpo, says she came for three purposes.

First is for interaction with industry insiders. Then she wants to listen to different opinions about Grace Vineyard, because she is afraid she may have developed a "fond bias" for her own wines. The third purpose is training.

She says Grace Vineyard has no major expansion plans in the horizon, but "we hope to maintain our present production and sales volume".

Grace produces 2 million bottles a year, and sells mostly inside China. "There are plenty of foreign wines in the market. We are producing mainly for the Chinese," she says

Leissner thinks it is a good thing for the industry to have other Chinese vineyards improving quality and quantity.

"I'd rather my competitors do well, because pressure will make us progress," she says. "I hope one day there will be a 'Wines of China' section at the expo. There is no commercial secret in this line of business."

Li Demei, a Chinese wine expert based in Beijing, says the Chinese presence at Vinexpo is still small.

"It is a problem with Chinese enterprises. They think their market is inside China, so they don't need to come outside," he says.

"But being here at the Vinexpo is actually significant for brand building. It can help them get an idea of better packaging, and it is a good chance for self-appraisal."

Li consults for Helan Qingxue winery in Ningxia. He believes it would be good for wineries in the region to group under the name of Ningxia, to raise their reputation, and help improve quality of the wines.

"Chinese wines have definitely improved their quality, but there is still a big gap between us and the international level," he says. "Chinese chateau wines have made great progress. But they produce too little to be of significant influence.

"Compared to major international wine producers, China is still a consumer market."