China is a very big place.

And very big places that go through an evolutionary period of intense development and subsequent demand for things fine and sophisticated can become very big markets.

Put simply, China is now believed to be among the top five wine-consuming countries in the world.

It's populace, which is becoming increasingly middle class with higher incomes and higher expectations of what they would like to taste, has taken to pursuing wines from the West.


French winemakers were quick to get aboard the accelerating wine train called China, and the other big European players of Italy, Spain and Germany also began sending crates of many varieties in China's direction.

The United States, Australia and New Zealand are also now firmly aboard.

Back in 2008 wine exports from New Zealand to China came in at $2.1million.

By 2011 they had reached $11million and during the following 12 months that doubled - exports in 2012 were tagged at about $24million. This year that figure will have expanded to more than $27million.

Though the Chinese market has its challenges (government clampdowns on extravagant spending in favour of more modest consumerism have stalled things a little) there is plenty of optimism.

New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and New Zealand Winegrowers have worked together to forge pathways into the great market of the East, and the long-range target is to build the market to more than $100million by 2020.

Last year total wine sales in China reached 2395 million litres and sales volumes rose 3 per cent - a welcome increase over the slight decline of 2013.

The market is healthy, and foreign winemakers account for about 14.8 per cent of the business enterprises operating there.

The industry is growing as the increasing number of Chinese people with medium-to-high incomes has an effect.

On a per-capita basis, though, wine consumption in China is low - just 3 per cent of all alcohol consumption.

Traditionally, Chinese distilled spirits with high alcohol content have dominated, but drinking trends among younger generations have veered toward lower-alcohol drinks.

Beer and wine have become popular.

Winemaking enterprises and the media have been promoting wine culture there during the past decade, and that awareness has led to the growth.

It looks good for the Kiwi industry, as New Zealand wines have a very good reputation.

They are seen as fresh, and produced from prime fruits and sites.

As Hawke's Bay Winegrowers executive officer James Medina said during the launch of the region's new wine brand, words like "Gimblett Gravels" and "Hawke's Bay" are far from unknown across the Chinese winescape.

In terms of what the palates of the Chinese consumers prefer, Hawke's Bay is in a good spot.

Red wine gets the nod by a long way, accounting for most of off-trade volume sales, with some in wine circles believing the actual colour may have a little to do with that aside from the fine tastes - in China red is a colour for power, luck and success.

That is good news for the Bay's winemakers who have built a superb global reputation for producing fine reds, particularly syrahs.

Beijing-based wine educator and Master of Wine-qualified judge Fongyee Walker, who represents Hawke's Bay Winegrowers in China, said the Bay's focus on producing Bordeaux-style red was a "key strength" for the region.

And for the Hawke's Bay Winegrowers stand at the New Zealand Winegrowers spread at the Vinexpo in Hong Kong last year, the focus was on reds.

"It is the reds that drive that market," Mr Medina said.

For the top three markets of the UK, US and Australia, reds make up 10 per cent, 6 per cent and 13 per cent respectively, but in the growing Chinese market red wines make up 63 per cent.

Mr Medina said younger Chinese consumers, who enjoyed fruit-driven tastes, were also starting to go after the white wines.

One of the great advantages Hawke's Bay wines had was that they possessed a style of soft tannins and fruit - and that hit the Chinese palate on the mark.

New Zealand also possessed the "clean and green" landscape and was recognised and respected for providing high-quality food and beverages.

"That flow-on effect really helps Hawke's Bay," Mr Medina said.

Although the figures had not been broken down, the export value to Hawke's Bay was likely to be around the $10million to $12million mark - pinot noir alone is about 40 per cent of the market. "It is on the rise - sales figures are up."

Mr Medina said it was crucial for potential exporters to meet the people they would deal with and see the market for themselves.

"You have to be there."

Hawke's Bay Winegrowers sparked its China marketing programme two years ago and events are now staged in major centres across the great country three or four times a year.

During their first journeys through China, a group of 11 Hawke's Bay winemakers visited five cities in just eight days, spreading the word.

More than 1000 media, trade and general wine enthusiasts attended the shows and sessions, where winemakers addressed them - educating them in the ways of wine production across their region.

It was also essential for exporters to find the right partnerships for their ventures.

"You meet them and establish trust."

The number of Hawke's Bay wineries exporting to China now numbered around 20.

Several wineries had established offices and showrooms in China - like Ngatarawa, which set up a site in Guangzhou.

Mr Medina said one of the challenges was distribution as it was still a relatively young industry and the country was so vast.

Distribution centres had, however, been forged across the northern and southern regions and more were emerging - several specialising in wines for restaurants, specialised wine shops and events.

Hawke's Bay was now firmly entrenched on the calendar for visiting groups of high-flyers within the Chinese wine industry and several groups had been through the region this year - the next group would be here on November7.

Four "very influential" wine industry representatives from China will be coming to the Bay, as well as other wine regions, as guests of New Zealand Winegrowers.

For Fongyee Walker, the equation is clear.

"Hawke's Bay has a very good reputation for producing quality wines," she said.

"And most people you give a glass of New Zealand wine to like it - because it is reliable."

She said the Bay had a stunning diversity of wines and the near-perfect 2013 and 2014 vintages would find favour in a Chinese market that was seeking top-class wines.

Mr Medina said that was now being seen and reiterated, "It's on the rise."