In a country where beer and clear liquor known as baijiu once dominated the market, it’s fascinating to see these Chinese alcoholic beverages dethroned by wine. Not just any wine either…Chilean wine. The US once laid claim to as Chile’s biggest wine export market, but now China has stolen the title away.
From 2016 to 2017, overall imports of wine into China grew by 26%. That’s no accident either. Julio Alonso, Director of Wines of Chile Asia, recently spoke of this growth in a podcast with Bottled In China. Julio’s previous experience included working as a lawyer with the Ministry of Economy in Chile to help pass trade laws and was then hand-picked to serve as the Trade Commissioner of Chile in Shanghai. With a keen eye, Julio noted the opportunity to grow recognition for Chilean wine, which led to the birth of the Asia office for Wines of Chile in China.
With a keen eye, Julio noted the opportunity to grow recognition for Chilean wine, which led to the birth of the Asia office for Wines of Chile in China.
It wasn’t as simple as exporting Chilean bottles of wine to China though. That’s where Julio had his work cut out for him. It’s not that the Chinese weren’t interested in wine, but rather, his job was to make them interested in Chilean wine in particular.
Overall, the consumption of wine has increased globally in the last two years with China becoming the new center of focus for wine brands in every corner of the world. Why has wine suddenly become so popular in China? Much of it has to do with the boom of new wealth, making for a huge section of nouveau riche. These are consumers that think nothing of splurging, particularly on wine because they see it as an imported luxury, something to make others envious. It’s something that has been very true in the bigger cities like Shanghai for example where wine bars have been fairly common since 2011, but now, it’s spreading to some surprising places like Xinjiang for example.
Armed with this information, Julio had a blank page to work with when it came to bringing Chilean wine awareness into China. An intimidating goal, but one that left the door wide open for him to get creative. That meant he’d have to work around the perception of Chilean wine in China and bring awareness of it. After all, most Chinese know of French and Italian wines, but Chile is much further away. Julio’s job was to bridge that gap.
Focusing on the mindset of the consumers, Julio did the usual things like master classes to connect people to the wines of Chile. But he also used digital strategies for reaching Chinese consumers. With things like Weibo and WeChat, two social media apps that every Chinese person uses, he started using it to build awareness of Chilean wines and Chile overall.
His efforts have obviously paid off, for Chilean wine now stands at the top of wines imported into China. Just four years ago, the Chinese elite had little knowledge of Chile or its wines when in fact, Chile has one of the most diverse terroirs in the world. Back then, Chinese people knew that Chile was a far away country and thought it to be a bit mysterious since as a whole, most of them knew very little beyond that.
With plenty of room to explore the possibilities and share the culture of Chilean wine with the people of China, Julio created a rousing success out of his task. By educating the consumers and putting them in touch with the wines of Chile, the market quickly shifted, sending demand for Chilean wine sky-high.
Again, Julio relied on his online resources to connect him with as many people as possible. Through Weibo and WeChat combined, Wines of Chile has reached an epic 3 million people with over 52 million engaged by liking, forwarding, and commenting on the content he shares. He’s constantly searching for new platforms to reach the future wine drinkers too, ones that are perhaps mid-20s that haven’t yet thought of wine but will soon. With intriguing content, classes and even trips to Chile to learn more about it, Julio certainly has gotten China abuzz about Chilean wines.
By giving people a hands-on experience to taste the wine and enjoy experiences with it, it’s more than simply coming into China and saying Chile has the best wine in the world. With experiences and online connections to further reach, it’s no wonder Chilean wine has dominated China. Some of the biggest markets for Chilean wine in China are Chengdu, Sichuan, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen, but one of the biggest is Xinjiang, a place with 25 million people yet relatively unheard of compared to the other cities.
As Chile is blessed with climate and lands that produce diverse varietals, the types of wine that come from it are extremely varied which gives consumers many options to explore. Julio said the best-performing varietal in China is Cabernet Sauvignon. Because of such diversity, the price points vary as well, making for a distinguished selection of wines to try out at many levels of affordability. One of the most common price points according to Julio runs around 200 rmb which is roughly $45 to $50 USD.
Because, as Julio puts it, Chile is the land of innovation that embraces the extreme, it’s easy to see why the Chinese have grown so fond of the wines it produces. With a focus on sustainability, purity, and diversity, it’s the beginning of a beautiful and long-lasting friendship with China.
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Author: Franco Salzillo, Certified Somm & Wine Writer