Gone are the Days of Great Wall Wine and Roses

Asia Society Northern California in partnership with Japan Policy Research Institute and the Professor Yuan-li Wu Economics Speaker Series brought together California wine experts and exporters on October 22 for a panel discussion on the thriving wine market in China. The program titled “California Dreaming: Exporting Wines to China” featured market analyses by Chris Beros, China Office Director, The Wine Institute, Patrick Lloyd Hatcher, Senior Fellow, Japan Policy Research Institute, Charles Johnston, owner and winemaker, Helena View Johnston Winery and C. T. Wong, Deputy Director, Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, San Francisco.

China is now the fifth largest importer of bottled wine and the largest export market for French Bordeaux wines. While Chris Beros shared his insights into California winegrowers’ reach into China, C.T. Wong expounded upon Hong Kong’s own facilitative role in enabling foreign winegrowers to access the fragmented Chinese market, and Charles Johnston provided a long-timer’s perspective on the evolving tastes of the Chinese middle-class wine consumer. 

Johnston, a long-time veteran of the Chinese wine market, recalled his profiling graduate students at China Agricultural University – i.e., China’s “future sommeliers” in 2005 to create a vintage that matched the Chinese palette. Initially preferring a sweeter red wine, Chinese tastes have evolved, however, to favor “dry wines” in the style of more “French, Bordeaux” wines. His exported wines, too, now reflect the growing sophistication of China’s urban, middle-class consumers’ tastes that mimic the U.S. and European palettes.

Wine in China has grown in popularity not only because it represents “worldly sophistication”, but also because in Chinese popular consciousness, it is believed to have medicinal properties. Panel members agreed that due to the highly fragmented nature of China’s wine market, upon establishing a certain baseline of familiarity with key players in the region, selling wines online is more efficient than establishing brick-and-mortar storefronts.

The program was followed by wine tastings featuring boutique vintners that regularly export wines to China.

Video Clip: Changing Flavors of the Chinese Wine Market (4 min., 32 sec.): Charles Johnston elaborates on how to identify the taste of Chinese wine consumers and how to do more efficient business in the country.