Time is now for Kiwi winemakers in China

By Alexander Speirs

NZ winemakers plan to capitalise on the growing Chinese taste for Western sophistication, writes Alexander Speirs

Charlotte Read says a definite demand for New Zealand wine is emerging. Photo / Supplied
Charlotte Read says a definite demand for New Zealand wine is emerging. Photo / Supplied

Villa Maria's Charlotte Read is passionate about the potential for New Zealand sauvignon blanc to make a significant impact in the Chinese premier wine market.

"We are known as producing the benchmark standard of sauvignon blanc wine and we need to capitalise on that premium position in market," says Read.

New Zealand primarily exports sauvignon blanc to China which means a special effort is necessary to cut-through a market dominated by red wine.

Read - who is Villa Maria's market manager for Asia and the Middle East - says a definite demand for New Zealand wine is emerging right across the industry. "Hawkes Bay wine growers say China is their biggest global export market for red wines and they're having great success."

Villa Maria's own sales in China are dominated by white wines, with sauvignon blanc responsible for 70 per cent of total sales.

Read joined Villa Maria Estate seven years ago, as the UK and European market manager covering 26 markets - from Ireland to Dubai - from London.

In mid-2010, she moved into the Asia and Middle East market role to lead the company's growth strategies in these "exciting emerging markets".

"I have been based in Shanghai since March 2012 to spearhead Villa Maria's plans for rapid growth in China and the rest of Asia," she says. "I'm currently relishing the opportunity to work in the dynamic rapidly growing Asian wine market assisting to build the New Zealand Wine and Villa Maria brands."

Read has hired Nichole Mao as a brand ambassador to help educate Chinese consumers. Mao's role spans language and culture and includes translating Villa Maria's website into Chinese and establishing a social media presence to create a sustained Chinese appetite for New Zealand wine.

"We need to promote wine as part of a culture of sophistication and encourage adoption among the emerging middle class," says Mao. She says this is in line with an increasing interest in Western tastes and lifestyles among the emerging wealthier middle class.

Read was brought up on a vineyard in Hawkes Bay. Her father was one the first major grape growers in Hawkes Bay in the 1970s.

As part of its marketing strategy Villa Maria co-promotes with other New Zealand businesses, most recently working alongside Pure New Zealand Greenshell Mussels. "We strive to make New Zealand food and beverage more relevant here in China." says Read. The two companies use NZTE's New Zealand Central complex in downtown Shanghai for food and wine promotions.

NZTE indicates there is significant room for growth in the Chinese wine market. Annual global consumption for wine averages 7 litres per person; in China it is 0.38 litres per person.

About 50 New Zealand wineries are competing to fill the growing demand in a market dominated by French, Italian and Australian products

The Chinese associate red wine with health benefits. NZTE estimates it accounts for as much as 70 per cent of all wine consumption in the country. An NZTE study says the largest market for imported wine consumption is "on-premise", at top-end hotels, restaurants, bars and nightclubs.

Four-star and five-star hotels, Western restaurants and upscale local chain restaurants targeting middle and upper income groups generally carry a selection of imported wines, alongside local offerings. New Zealand wines are generally positioned in restaurant wine lists at between US$40-US$90 a bottle in Shanghai and Beijing.

Leading local brands are Great Wall, Dragon Seal, Changyu, Dynasty and Imperial Court which retail at an average price of US$3-US$5. This supports New Zealand winery efforts to target high end "premium" consumers in top end restaurants and five-star hotels.

Apart from the limited number of boutique retail shops, there are very few New Zealand wines in retail outlets.

15 per cent amount Chinese wine consumption expected to rise by in next five years
$2m NZ wine exports to China 10 years ago
$25m NZ wine exports to China in 2012
$150m+ NZ wine industry export target by 2020

- NZ Herald

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