China’s thirst for wine sweetens Australian economy

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In a small coastal city in east China’s Shandong Province, one can not only enjoy fresh seafood, but also some of the best wines.

Australian wine expert Bruno Zappia has been in China for more than a decade, most of which was spent in Longkou, where he has been helping with the budding wine industry.

As the former secretary-general of the Australian Table Grape Association, Bruno had good reasons for seeking a new career. Longkou is home to China’s top organic wine maker Weilong Grape Wine Co., Ltd.

After about 14 years as its top viticulturist, Bruno became the general manager of a subsidiary of Weilong in Australia in 2016.

“Although wine consumption in China is still low on a per capita basis, it has huge growth potential due to the rising standard of living,” he said.

China and Australia reached a free trade agreement in 2015 which would reduce tariffs on wine up to 2019, when they will be completely scrapped. In 2016, China became

Australia’s top wine export destination. Last year, wine exports to China jumped 63 percent by value.

Other Chinese producers have also been attracted to Australia. Last month Yantai Changyu Pioneer Wine Co. Ltd. bought a majority stake in Clare Valley vineyard Kilikanoon.

“Chinese consumers have been the main driver of the recent success of Australian wine, which had been depressed for over a decade,” Bruno said.

China’s appetite for wine is growing, especially for organic wine, according to Wang Zhenhai, board chairman of Weilong.

Sun Yantian, the company’s general manager, observed that consumers in central and western parts of the country are beginning to develop a taste for wine.

In addition to consumption, China’s interest in Australian wines has spawned a profitable wine tourism industry and winery purchases.

From 2015 to 2016, the number of Chinese tours to wine regions in Australia increased from 253 to 760, according to AAT Kings, a leading tour operator in Australia and New Zealand.

“There are enormous benefits for both countries that will evolve over the next generation. China will no doubt be the largest wine consumer in the world within the next decade. This will create opportunities for countries and businesses of all sizes,” Bruno said.

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