When we think about wines with a global reputation, we tend to think of France first and foremost. Certainly when we talk about wines that are popular within the world’s biggest market for red wine, China, we tend not to talk about the wines of the new world. But why not? South Africa’s wines are gaining in popularity, their quality has been proven, and it seems that China has taken an interest — if recent reports are to be believed.
Eyeing up new markets
With increasing competition from other wine-producing nations within the US and Europe, winemakers are increasingly eyeing up new markets for their products. It’s a rapidly expanding market that has already sought to expand its interest beyond the fine wines of Bordeaux. At the top end of the market, there’s increasing interest in Burgundy, the Rhone, and the top wines of Italy and California. Statistics suggest that South Africa is getting it absolutely right as well, with a 63% rise in sales within China last year. While that still accounts for a mere 3% of the import market compared to France’s whopping 45%, it’s undeniably impressive growth.
South Africa’s wines are well known and identifiable here in the UK, thanks to very strong branding; memorable titles that have become household names, attractive presentation and consumer information that is easy to understand – virtually the opposite of traditional French wine as we’ve come to understand it. This branding has already proved successful within China, as Pieter Terblanche, Swartland Winery’s head of global sales and marketing, identifies in this article with reference to ‘critters’ – depicting wild animals on the label to appeal to this new market. It is undoubtedly proving to be successful, although courting a savvy new market doesn’t begin and end with strong branding. Undoubtedly, the winemakers that want to consolidate their position at the forefront of South African brands in China will be thinking about how their grape varieties can complement the local cuisine and how they can continue to stand out from the crowd as the market becomes crowded with wines from other new world nations.
Imitation vs innovation
Ultimately it’s a question of identifying what factors have made French wine so successful in China, but also what might set wines from South Africa apart from them – imitation will not suffice. And as competition grows, it will be a matter of continuing to innovate in order to stay ahead. Exciting times undoubtedly, for those that have boldly ventured into the Chinese market at this stage in its growth. One suspects that they will reap the rewards.