An Examination of the Current Wine Culture in China
China produces a whopping 1.6 billion bottles of wine annually. But for all the production, they only export approximately 10% of this wine, keeping 90% for themselves. In addition, they are some of the most avid importers of wines, especially from France’s Bordeaux.
So… Who is it in China downing all this wine? For a culture that has a history far more entrenched in rice wine, baiji and beer, it can certainly put away some enormous quantities of grape wine without any problem.
Nearly 80% of the wine consumption in China hinges on the young adults, age 20-40. This group saw China’s wine industry shoot up like a bottle rocket, beginning in the late 1980’s. They witnessed wineries springing up all over the country, and entire regions becoming so devoted that their traffic signs are now shaped like wine bottles.
Most especially, it’s these, the children of the era of technology, that have been so indelibly influenced in fashion and food by the culture of the West– a culture which itself has been much molded by the production and consumption of wine.
Now our drinking habits are being shared with the rest of the world. You may not have noticed the wine splattered across our media, but someone else did. Lots of someones, in fact, on the other side of the globe, watching our TV and films. These young eyes admired the freedom and luxuries of the West, and now that they are able, are determined to enjoy all that they saw themselves.
And it’s always the young who start the fashion fads, isn’t it?
The largest channel of sales is in the urban centers, where the wealthy orbit high end hotels, bars, restaurants, and night clubs. Wine, especially red wine, has become the symbol of the elite and the wealthy–and an excellent way to prove your own affluence is to buy wine as gifts.
The Chinese New Year and Mid-Autumn festival account for about 60% of the annual wine sales in China. To give a bottle of expensive French wine to a friend is the equivalent of handing them good luck and popularity wrapped up in a bow.
Red wine accounts for 80% of the wine production, and is used as a table wine. (In fact, most Chinese food is far better paired with a red wine than a white, so a good rule of thumb is that if you’re eating Chinese, look to the red list and avoid the white.) For any young socialite throwing a party, red wine, and lots of it, will be the drink of the evening.
In addition to the powerful, the local Chinese population is becoming gradually wealthier too. By 2005 most of the Chinese wine was consumed by the growing middle classes. Instead of the striking contrast of rich to poor that it’s had in recent years, China’s wealth is beginning to be distributed more evenly, creating a young middle class that is hungry for the luxuries it sees in the West and at the dinner tables of their elite. Chinese wine is much cheaper and far more easily accessible for them.
Perhaps the next time you sit down with a bottle of red, you’ll feel just a little bit more classy as you enjoy China’s symbol of wealth and good luck.