Zhongguo is the Chinese name for China, and translates literally as ‘Middle Kingdom’.
It is a country that sits in the middle of the northern hemisphere, and with 1.4 billion people is a powerful, re-emerging economy. The saying usually goes: ‘If 1 percent of China’s population enjoyed wine, then the problems of the international wine glut would be solved’. As such, China has seen a huge influx of both premium wine brands making a lot of money through prestige, as well as a lot of low-quality wines making the most of a large market to soak up volume. Middle Earth is sitting quite comfortably in a quality-driven middle ground, and is poised to enjoy a kingdom’s preference.
Chengdu is a modest second-tier city of 14 million people that every year hosts China’s largest wine fair. This year, with the help of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, a handful of New Zealand wine producers put on a bit of a show and tell. It was marvellously, chaotically, successfully swamped by people eager to learn more about New Zealand’s quality wines.
For a country that represents 1 percent of the China wine market, New Zealand achieves higher than average prices per litre on imported wines. Unique for its location within a cool, dry, maritime climate, New Zealand has exceptional conditions for the grape varieties grown. There are not many places like it. With low yields and a quality reputation, New Zealand wines’ higher price tags are generally accepted. Add New Zealand’s international image as a clean, green, unadulterated, healthy country, and its wines are viewed as value for money.
The last few years of government crackdown on extravagance in China has seen value wines from new world countries playing a more important role there. Large-volume producers accused of exporting wine for sale at less than the cost of production, using China as a dumping ground, has added to the emerging opportunity for New Zealand wine-makers. As Philip Gregan, CEO of New Zealand Winegrowers, says, “New Zealand sees China as a long-term relationship, worthy of a quality product.”
While the China wine market is now stabilising, the trend among the country’s wine-savvy is more exploration of value-for-money wines. If a restaurant is to have a good wine list, then it must include a New Zealand wine. It is part of China’s culture to haggle for a bargain, but it is also part of its culture to appreciate a quality product.