Leisa Tyler / LightRocket

As demand booms, China's vineyards now second largest in the world

Chinese wine still lags far behind European wine powerhouse in terms of production, but growth expected

China has overtaken France as the second-largest wine grower in the world by vineyard area, the International Vine and Wine Organization (OIV) said this week, as producers in the world's most populous country attempts to keep up with booming domestic demand.

China, the world's second-largest economy, has more than doubled its cultivated land for wine since 2000 to an area roughly the size of Puerto Rico, OIV found. Over the same time frame its global share has increased from around 4 percent to 10.6 percent. That number edged China above the traditional wine powerhouse of France, which is now in third place at 10.5 percent, and inched it closer to Spain, the world’s top grower by area at 13.5 percent of the world’s share.

“In China, there’s more and more demand for wine, and more and more people with the money to buy it,” said Yann Juban, deputy director of OIV in Paris, France. “There’s a growth in demand, and China would like to produce this wine themselves.”

In terms of actually turning the fruit of its vineyards into drinkable wine, China still lags far behind the major European winemakers. France, Italy and Spain each produced more than 40 million hectoliters of wine in 2014, far outpacing China’s 11 million hectoliters, according to OIV.

But China’s winemaking boom has just taken root, experts note. There is usually at least a four-year wait after vines are planted for them to produce in full, and years more of experimentation to craft quality wine, meaning that Chinese output hasn’t yet borne the fruit of new vines planted during the past two to three years. Meanwhile, the government continues to promote viticulture in China’s vast expanses of relatively dry land, including the Mekong River Valley, which would otherwise not be put to much agricultural use, Juban said.

And as China’s middle class continues to expand, and as its urban nouveau riche acquire a preference for the grape over traditional rice wine, domestic consumption of mass-produced wine continues to be a driving factor. In 2013, China became the largest consumer of red wine in the world, a distinction that reflects not only middle-class demand but also the pronounced Chinese aversion to white wine.

Even if Chinese winemakers have found a market at home, fulfilling about 80 percent of domestic market share, it may take much longer for China to produce wine that is competitive internationally. Getting a wine export industry off the ground requires investment and expertise, and it could take decades for Chinese wine to gain traction in Europe or the United States, the world's single largest market for wine by volume.

But Juban said it was possible China could ultimately seek to exploit its vast trade ties in the developing world to push out its wine as the industry develops.

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