China's global domination moves into winemaking in Bordeaux

By Gabrielle Pickard
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, December 4, 2011
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China is the world's fastest growing wine market.[File photo]

My two young sons have a new favourite hobby - going into a 'Chinese shop' and buying a new toy. In fact a day rarely goes by at the moment when they don't ask "Mum please can we go to the Chinese shop?" During the last couple of years the rural inland town in Spain where we live has seen a steady amount of Chinese shops open, and whilst many Spanish and even English-run shops in the town are failing and closing down, the growing number of Chinese shops in the area are thriving.

There is a reason why China now has the world's fastest growing economy. It is one of the world's top exporters, is attracting record amounts of foreign investment and is investing billions of dollars abroad. And judging by the amount of 'Chino' shops opening in a market town in inland Spain, selling 'cheap and cheerful' products that not even children can seem to resist, China certainly seems to be succeeding where other nations are failing.

My awareness of China's present domineering presence in selling products abroad, was riveted even further recently when my brother-in-law and his wife returned from a holiday in France this summer talking of there being Chinese-ran wineries in France. Now selling 'made in China' toy cars, screwdrivers and scooters in Spain is one thing, but actually competing with the French with what is possibly their most cherished and honoured product, is another.

Jon and Viv Whitehead, avid French wine enthusiasts, stayed at Chateau Soussac, a magnificent 19th century wine chateau situated close to the legendary wine estates of Saint Emilion and Pomerol. During their stay at the chateaux, the couple were surprised to learn that the region of Bordeaux, one of the most famous places in the world to make high quality wine, is at the front-line of Asia's rapidly expanding economic valour, for the surprising reason that the Chinese are making wine here.

The 15-acre plot of Chateaux Soussac is owned by Joe and Nell Beattie, who have been making wine in France since 2006. The couple were willing to share their thoughts with me about China's rising presence in the French wine-making industry. According to the Beattie's, the Chinese are buying existing vineyards in France and leaving French people to run them, and that China's interest in Bordeaux wine has had a positive impact on the wine industry in the region.

When asked whether or not, the Chinese's arrival in France has had any kind of affect on their winery business, Nell Beattie said:

"The Chinese arrival in France hasn't affected out wine business in any way - when they do buy a wine chateaux, they have their own Chinese markets already organized so they don't infringe on other chateaux's European/American markets."

Unlike the many Spanish shop owners in Spain who are complaining that their businesses have taken a knock due to the opening of the 'Chino' shops, which sell similar products for often half the price of what the Spanish are selling them for, winemakers from France are welcoming of China's presence in the vineyards in areas like Bordeaux.

"We think the Chinese interest in Bordeaux has had a very positive effect - it focuses attention on Bordeaux wines and because the Chinese pay good prices, this helps when selling to European/American markets," said Nell Beattie.

As Chinese companies invest in wine-making chateaux in France, they are also developing winemaking in China, which, according to the BBC, is now the world's seventh largest producer of wine. Unbelievably, and to the astonishment of many European wine experts, a wine that was made in China beat French rivals in a blind wine tasting competition, and won a major international award in the Bordeaux section!

Sharing considerably less enthusiasm about China's presence in French wineries is my brother-in-law Jon Whitehead, who believes that there is too much wine on the world market and that China stepping into the world wine industry is likely to displace the likes of Australian, South African, Chilean and Argentinean wine, nations, where the EU traditionally buys it's "poor quality wine from."

Thanks to the explosion of Chinese wine consumption, the prices of Bordeaux wine have shot up in recent years, a fact that wine growers in Bordeaux are obviously grateful for but buyers considerably less so. Thanks to the growing number of 'Chino' shops opening in the town where I live in Spain, means that I am now spending a fortune on my boy's new-found enthusiasm in products 'made in China', to which, I am not grateful for. One thing is for sure though - this market savvy nation that is extending its presence in many different markets across the globe, looks to be on target to meet the economists' predictions that China's economy will surpass the size of the U.S economy by 2035.

The author is a columnist with For more information please visit:

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