Spanish winemakers eye China's wine frontier

Spanish winemakers eye China's wine frontier
A man and woman chat in front of a Spanish wine booth on the first day of the sixth International Wine and Spirits Fair in Hong Kong on November 7, 2013.

HONG KONG - Wines from Spain and the New World are gaining ground in China at the expense of their French counterparts, as increasingly adventurous Chinese wine enthusiasts push back the frontiers of a surging market, say experts.

Exports of Spanish wines surged 40 per cent year-on-year in China in the first half of the year, according to Chinese customs reports, and it is now the third-biggest exporter of bottled wine to the lucrative wine market behind France and Australia.

"The Chinese are now searching for wines other than from France because they are more educated about wines from other countries," Hong Kong wine expert Mabel Lai told AFP.

But price is also a reason. Wines from Spain and other countries such as Italy, Portugal and Australia sell for less compared with French wines said Lai, who is a lecturer at the Hong Kong Wine Academy.

A top bottle of Spanish wine may range from US$260 to $390, but a bottle of a highly rated French vintage could be double that amount, she said.

French winemakers at the Hong Kong International Wine and Spirits Fair say increasing competition in the Chinese market is a good thing for the industry. France holds a roughly 50 per cent share of the Chinese market.

"A little bit of competition will force us to improve our production and our winemaking," Jean-Laurent Soule, a sales manager for French winemaker Ravoire et Famille, told AFP, welcoming competition from other countries.

"We are still confident about the quality of our products," Soule said.

November's International Wine and Spirits Fair, one of Asia's largest, is partnered with Spain this year and has attracted more than 1,000 producers from around the world, as the southern Chinese city cements its position as an international wine hub.

Hong Kong, which abolished duties on wine imports in 2008, has become a gateway to the booming wine market in mainland China. In recent years, the city overtook New York to become the world's biggest wine auction hub.

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