Can Spanish wine producers spread their wings in China?

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French wine continues to dominate in China, but producers from Spain ask whether there is space for another of the European winemaking giants to make it big in the People’s Republic. Eloise Feilden finds out more.

“Simply because a wine is French, it sounds better to a Chinese consumer,” Xu Julian, head of the Alilian winery, the only Chinese-run winegrower in Spain, told Chinese state news agency Xinhua in an interview last week.

Located in Ribera del Duero, the Alilian winery was set up by Xu’s father, and Xu is now oenologist and manager.

He told the Chinese state news outlet that the image of Spanish wine as “cheap and low quality” is changing in China. “There are already a lot of Chinese people investing in vineyards and wineries, and that will continue in the future because Spanish wine is on the rise and is growing, and especially in quality regions like Rioja and Ribera del Duero.”

Matteo d’Imporzano, Europe & Asia sales director at Spanish wine producer Raventós Codorníu has observed a notable growth in demand for the company’s wine brands among Chinese consumers.

Raventós Codorníu’s brands span many of the country’s regions and wine styles, including Cava brand Codorníu, Bodegas Bilbaínas from Rioja, Scala Dei in Priorat, Legaris in Ribera del Duero and Raimat in Costers del Segre.

d’Imporzano tells the drinks business that demand in China has demonstrated substantial potential for Raventós Codorníu, the oldest winegrowing business in Spain, outpacing growth in other markets in Asia.

A rapidly expanding middle class, changing drinking habits, an e-commerce boom as well as a rise in wine tourism are driving demand, he argues.

“China stands out as one of the largest and fastest-growing global wine markets,” d’Imporzano adds. “While domestic wines gain recognition, there’s a strong preference for imported wines.”

He continues: “Compared to other Asian markets, the wine market in China stands out as dynamic and promising due to a combination of these factors. While other Asian markets also experience growth, the scale and pace of expansion in China are notable, offering significant opportunities for wine producers.”

Downward Curve

However, the value and volume of Spanish still wine consumption in China is falling at a significant rate, according to IWSR, with a volume CAGR down 16% over the period 2017-2022, and value down 12% over the same period.

Things were looking up in 2021 for Spanish wine in the market, with value and volume up 29% and 21% on 2021 figures respectively. But the tide changed for the worse again in 2022, with year-on-year value down 32% and volume down 34%.

But d’Imporzano remains positive about Spanish wine’s potential in China. He argues that affordability makes Spanish brands attractive, “especially in comparison to other European wines”, likely a reference to France.

“Additionally, Spain’s commitment to wine tourism aligns with the Chinese interest in experiential consumption. The long history and tradition of Spanish wineries like Codorníu add to the allure, as Chinese consumers value heritage and tradition.”

Raventós Codorníu continues to develop its Chinese audience through marketing research, digital marketing, influencers collaborations, education and tasting events, adaptation to Chinese market, trade shows and exhibitions, promotional campaigns, labelling and information, and building relationships with distributors and importers through wine dinners and tastings.

Information from The Drinks Business

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