NZ wine in demand for presents

Rich Chinese businessmen are buying up Kiwi wines by the 100-dozen for gifts, a New Zealand winemaker and exporter says.

Brent Marris, of Marisco Vineyards, started exporting to China late last year and believes the market could be enormous for New Zealand wineries.

It took six trips to China and about two years of spade work to secure a distributor and get his wine into the country, he said.

The "VIP gift market" in China was "extremely big" and many people did not realise just how large it was, he said.

He had come back from wine tastings with exceptionally wealthy Chinese who were buying up to 100 cases at a time. Those bottles would be used as gifts for staff or business partners. In China, his Kings Series wine sold for about $100 a bottle off the shelf.

Chinese people traditionally bought red wine for business gifts, special occasions or public holidays. French reds, in particular, were coveted for their status.

But aromatic white wines were becoming popular with women and sales were picking up. Wine was more often being drunk alongside food, instead of on its own, he said.

Chinese were travelling more and getting a taste for Western food, clothing and other products which was fuelling demand for them back in China, he said.

A co-operative effort between New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) and New Zealand Winegrowers, the Wine Market Development Programme, had been set up to make the most of those changes in China.

New Zealand Trade and Enterprise wine programme manager Karyn Murray said about $25 million of wine was exported to China in the year to June and the programme aims to boost that to $150m a year by 2020.

In 2007, New Zealand exported just $500,000 of wine to China. The massive increase in five years was due to many Kiwi wine companies looking for new, higher-value markets in the midst of the global financial crisis and a glut of New Zealand wine which hurt traditional export markets.

In addition the signing of the China-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement in 2008 phased out 14 per cent import tariffs for Kiwi wine over three years to zero.

Most New Zealand wine was sold in the three biggest cities, Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou.

NZTE and NZ Winegrowers would be "influencing the influencers", Murray said.

Spreading wine information and getting the ear of leading Chinese sommeliers and masters of wine would be the only way forward for a small country like New Zealand, she said.

China was intimidating and a lot of work, so NZTE was advocating co-operation between Kiwi wineries selling there to make the most of resources.

"There's always been a mantra in China, that if it wasn't red and it wasn't from France, it wasn't any good, but that's being challenged now."

NZ Winegrowers global marketing director Chris Yorke said information on the value of the different parts of the Chinese market was not yet known, but anecdotally the gift sector was very lucrative.

Kiwi wine sold for an average of $11.47 a litre in China, the highest of all export countries, he said.

Between 30 and 50 Kiwi wine companies were exporting to China.

The Press