When you think of countries that are the world’s top wine producers, you might only consider European countries like Italy. France, and Spain, or at most new world wine regions like USA and Australia. But did you know that China is now one of the biggest wine producers in the world?
The Red Dragon of Asia has soared to the top ranks in the list of the world’s biggest wine producers because of years of planned expansion and market drive. Over the past decade, the country has turned some 120,000 hectares of additional land into vineyards. Eight major wine-producing regions have been created and more than 200 wineries have emerged and over a dozen of them have gone public. They are producing fine wines like fresh and fruity Cabernet Sauvignons modelled on the Bordeaux style, elegant and textured Chardonnays, award-winning sweet wines, as well as reds made from Chinese Marselan grape.
The rise of the wine industry in China
Wine is not a recent discovery in China. It has been cultivated since the ancient Han dynasty, dating as far back as 206 BC. For a long time, it was perceived as a symbol of social status and luxury, until the modern-day proliferation of wine into people’s daily lives and the exponential growth of the global wine industry.
Now more and more Chinese people are welcoming wine into their lifestyles and enjoying it as an acceptable and accessible drink with some health benefits. Thanks to globalisation and a growing middle class with disposable incomes, the wine market in China has experienced a boom in recent years. The immense land area and the favourable climate of the country are crucial factors that have aided this expansion.
Today China is responsible for nearly half of the world’s total grape production. In 2020, the country ranked as the world’s third largest revenue market for the wine industry, only behind the United States and France. This was accompanied by a 20% rise in the average per capita consumption over less than a decade. According to a recent Bloomberg report, the nation is among the six biggest consumers in the world and drinks about 1.24 billion litres of wine annually, but per capita consumption is only about a quarter of the world average,
A market rife with opportunities and challenges
Even though the annual per capita wine sales are not as high, the market is lucrative. The country ranks second in the world in vineyard area with about 870,000 hectares, only outranked by Spain. China has plans to triple its grape-growing area and increase its production value to more than $31 billion by 2035. In the words of the Chinese agricultural ministry, this will help the country become “globally influential in the international wine industry.”
Where there are opportunities, however, there are also challenges. Stiff competition from foreign competitors has led to rising production costs and shrinking price margins. The Coronavirus pandemic also contributed to a drop in demand for wine, and several leading wineries turned in losses.
The other challenge is that China produces a lot more table grapes or raisins than it does wine grapes. Although the world’s biggest grape producer with about 14 million tons of annual grape production, only 11% of this is used to produce wine.
Even so, the growth trajectory of the Chinese wine industry is remarkable. The country has ambitious plans to turn a section of the Gobi Desert into a wine-producing region in the province of Ningxia, which already contributes about a quarter of China’s wine output.
A slew of global successes
The wines of China have also been sweeping accolades at international wine awards, which is a testimony to the country’s growing importance in the global wine industry. Chinese wines picked up 32 silver medals and 101 bronze medals at the 2022 IWSC awards, and swept the Decanter World Wine Awards 2022 with 234 wins, which include 17 gold and 64 silver medals. These successes showcase the improvement in the quality and sophistication of the wine being produced across China and reflect a sense of growing confidence among the wine producers of the world’s biggest wine country.
This is actually a great time to explore the world of fine Chinese wines. If you’re unsure where to start, we recommend the crisp and aromatic rose Penglai Longting Vineyard Co. rosé wine, Art Series Summer 2019, or the rich and full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon blend from Junding Winery, Dongfang 2018.