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China a 'blank page' for Hawke's Bay wine exporters

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
China a 'blank page' for Hawke's Bay wine exporters

A visiting Chinese wine consultant believes that the diversity of Hawke's Bay wines is ideal for a foray into China as that country was essentially a "blank page" with an ever increasing number of consumers keen to be educated about wine.

China was such a vast country that even making inroads into a city of seven to 10 million could be a huge market for any Hawke's Bay winery, Fongyee Walker told a group of 30 local winemakers and winery owners last week.

Ms Walker and her husband Edward Ragg, are founders of Dragon Phoenix Fine Wine Consulting, China's most successful Wine & Spirit Education Trust that works to educate Chinese about wine, and assists wine companies from around the world to establish Chinese markets.

She told the group attending the China Market Forum hosted by Hawke's Bay Winegrowers Inc., that different areas of the country had vastly different taste preferences and accordingly, there was something for everyone amongst the "wonderful diversity" Hawke's Bay wines had to offer.

Northern China favoured "big flavours, big reds and big alcohol", says Ms Walker, while Cantonese appreciated more delicate, refined flavours. In the southwest, there was sensitivity to the interplay of sugars and acids that would suit some wines but not others.

At this stage, the group was told, Chinese wine drinkers were largely white collar, well educated and desperate for knowledge. "At the moment most wine drinkers are a little frightened, overwhelmed and so stick with what they know but I think confidence will quickly grow, and anyone who supports that growth in knowledge will benefit," she said.

"Don't think 'China', think much more specifically. China is so vast that even getting in with a private wine club would provide access to 30,000 VIP members, or a golf company with a series of clubs would introduce a local winery to hundreds of thousands of potential customers. Some third and fourth tier cities with their smaller populations (five to 10 million people) don't yet have a single wine shop. There is so much opportunity."

However, Ms Walker, who is in New Zealand to address the New Zealand Winegrowers Exporters' Forum in Marlborough (runs 13-15 July), cautioned those attending that to be successful as exporters to China they needed to be very serious.

"You need to be committed, you need to work at it, visit regularly, be prepared to create a buzz, create an identity," she said. "If you want a meaningful relationship then you need to do the legwork.

"The Chinese market is open but you need to choose with care, target one or two places and then be prepared to help educate about wine with simple messages."

Alwyn Corban, managing director of Ngatarawa Wines has been exporting into China for the past two and half years. "It is definitely about developing relationships and your networks, and being patient. There are masses of opportunities but you need to take the time to sift through them. It's also important to maintain your brand position and your integrity."

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