Springtime for Chinese wines
Starting a new chapter at Prowein 2023, Germany
(Düsseldorf,19-21 March 2023) 3 days, 1 opening ceremony, 4 master classes, 7 wine regions, 13 wineries, 100 wines… Chinese wine producers returned to Düsseldorf under the banner of Upward China Wine (UCW) after a hiatus of three years, to find themselves a new starting position in the international arena.
by Janet Z. Wang
When China lifted its ‘Zero Covid’ policy just before the Spring Festival 2023, Grace Zhong’s phone was alight with enquiries from Chinese wineries about the possibility to attend Prowein – the largest international professional wine trade fair held annually in Düsseldorf, Germany. Grace, who organises delegations of Chinese wine producers to exhibit under the banner of Upward China Wine (UCW) and the directorship of Professor Li Demei of Beijing Agriculture College, China’s preeminent wine educator and winemaker consultant, is the most visible collective presence of Chinese wines at home and abroad.
Working at pace with legendary ‘Chinese speed’, in as little as two months, Grace gathered together 13 wineries from seven major wine regions from across China and shipped over 100 wines to Düsseldorf. Grace secured and designed a large, striking circular pavilion style exhibition space in a prominent position in Hall 14 of the colossal exhibition centre where new wine regions of the world were to be gathered. With neighbours such as Australia’s Penfolds and Napa Valley’s Beaulieu Vineyard, the location itself was a statement of intent and clearly no afterthought.
The last international outing of such a Chinese wine delegation was at Prowein 2019. After a three year hiatus due to pandemic restrictions, Chinese wine producers were eager to re-evaluate the international wine scene and their overseas market prospects. It was therefore with great expectations and high spirits, that winery owners, marketing executives and winemakers, along with Grace and Professor Li, embarked on their journey to the West.
The overall colour scheme of UCW’s booth is a rich and intoxicating shade of red known as the ‘Palace wall red’, made famous and instantly recognisable by the walls of the Forbidden City. It is ubiquitous to the Chinese notion of refinement and auspiciousness, and represents prosperity, passion and the red red wine. The near circular shape of the booth is inspired by the design of Hakka earth buildings (Fujian Tulou) and encapsulates the philosophy of ‘heaven-earth-people’ as an integrated whole. This is also a central belief in Chinese wine making, and speaks to the global wine audience who appreciates the concept of terroir.
Prowein kicked off in earnest on 19th March. To mark the official launch of the Chinese wine pavilion, an opening ceremony was co-hosted by Professor LI Demei and Mr CH’NG Poh Tiong, regional chair of Decanter Asia Wine Awards (DAWA), who flew in specially from Singapore. Distinguished international guests, speakers and attendees from all walks of life gathered together, among them Consul General of China in Düsseldorf – Mr DU Chunguo, Global Head of Wine & Spirits at Prowein – Mr Marius Berlemann, University of Mainz professor – Dr Peter Kupfer, President of the Chinese Culinary Association of Germany – Mr Yuan Ching HU, President of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Germany – Mr HU Xudong, Editor-in-Chief of the German Bureau of The European Times, Former Deputy City Mayor Mr Wolfgang Scheffler, Deutsche Welle correspondent Mr FU Yue, local journalist and educator Ms QIN Shuguang, Messe Düsseldorf CEO, Mr Wolfram Nikolaus Dienerand and Mr Bernard Magrez, President & Director General of Bernard Magrez Grands Vignobles Propriétaire.
Professor LI Demei and Mr CH’NG Poh Tiong started off proceedings with their bilingual greetings to set the scenes for the three day exhibition. They both emphasised the need for Chinese wine to become a cultural product, and to appeal both internationally and speak of its place of origin. It follows that wine communication needs to be developed alongside wine quality, and it is the next challenge for Chinese wine to be able to express itself through international dimensions and become an ambassador of Chinese culture and values.
Notably, the other guest speakers who followed Professor Li and Mr Ch’NG’s opening remarks also spoke well of their own understanding of Chinese wine and culture, and praised the quality of Chinese wines which have already reached international standards, making China an exciting new wine region to watch.
Consul General DU Chunguo’s speech encapsulated the essence of the next milestone for the wines of China: “Chinese wine contains special elements from Chinese culture, society, climate, mountains and water … Chinese wines will make the global wine family more colourful and more beautiful.” He talked about his own early affinity with the wines of his home county Shandong province, which has inspired him to become a wine lover. His subsequent life journey which has taken him around the world made him realise that wine is both universal, but also unique to a country and a place. “The development of the Chinese wine industry is not only a reflection of China’s cultural heritage, beauty, diversity and inclusivity, but also a result of international cooperation, economic and cultural exchange.” He expressed the wish that wine could make us treasure the uniqueness and wonder of various civilisations.
Marius Berlemann, speaking on behalf of Prowein, remarked that “Chinese wines always bring the market surprise and hope’. He noted this year’s attendance of Chinese wine producers marks a new record for Prowein, and paid tribute to Chinese wines’ consistent successes at international competitions in recent years. “Within the three days of Prowein, I know there are lots of tastings and masterclasses about Chinese wines. Hope you will take the opportunity to enjoy and discover more about China.”
Professor Peter Kupfer, who has recently published a book in German entitled “Amber Shine and Black Dragon Pearls: The History of Chinese Wine Culture”, presented his new book to Consul General DU, and spoke about his amazement at the diversity of many grape varieties native to China. Dr Kupfer is a retired professor from the Department of Chinese Language and Culture at Mainz University. He has travelled extensively along the Silk Road and was an avid researcher in the history and culture of China and the Eurasian region. In recent years he has visited many wineries in China and archaeological sites related to viticultural history. He believes that the history of wine in China is as long as that of Europe, and possibly even longer. “Silk Road is also a Wine Road. The history of wine is a shared history of both Europe and Asia. The current Chinese wine renaissance is an exciting moment in history”.
Mr Yuan Ching HU, President of the Chinese Culinary Association of Germany, said that the quality of Chinese wine makes him proud of his Chinese ancestry, and hopes to promote Chinese wine culture alongside the more established Chinese culinary culture in Germany. “There are over 8,000 Chinese restaurants in Germany, and we have 1,500 or so members. Chinese wines are already competitive in terms of quality, so we should think of ways to showcase them here. I hope in the not too distant future we will let our German and even European friends enjoy their Chinese meals with Chinese wines”. This is surely a key channel for Chinese wines into international markets. In Germany, Chinese cuisine is one of the top four most popular cuisines in Germany. Chinese restaurants in Germany boast a century old history, and many are now run by third generation restaurateurs, who are still deeply proud of their Chinese heritage. “We are keen to work towards a successful future for Chinese wine”.
After the speeches, Consul General DU and Mr Berlemann were invited to unveil a specially designed and commissioned ‘UCW wine region terroir map’, a long unfurling hand drawn scroll on silk paper, reminiscent of Chinese classic scroll paintings.
Over the three intensive exhibition days (19-21 March), Professor Li hosted several informative and detailed masterclasses on-site at the UCW Chinese wine pavilion. Each session was packed with eager attendants, many taking notes whilst being guided by Professor Li through a flight of wines showcasing the various wine regions of China. The first masterclass, entitled “Encountering the vast varieties of Chinese wines”, followed the Opening Ceremony and set the scenes for first time explorers of the modern Chinese wine industry. And what an incredible land to discover! From the Western frontiers of Xinjiang and its basins amidst snow capped mountains and endless deserts, through the Silk Road towards the northern-central plains protected by the Helan Mountain range bordering the Gobi desert, to the Shanxi ‘Mountain West’ loess plateau and the Shandong ‘Mountain East’ Peninsula, descending down in altitude along the way towards the milder and populous regions of Beijing and Hebei, before going further south-westward and up in height again towards the land of Shangri-La and the snow capped Meili Mountain range, where wines and dreams roam among the clouds… Familiar international grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are widely planted across these new frontier terrains, and then there are in recent years pockets of success for Riesling, Viognier, Petit Manseng, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Syrah, even Aglianico… exciting native or hybrid varieties are also starting to show promise, such as Longyan, Cabernet Gernischt, Beichun, ‘Prince’ & ‘Princess’ (original clone), plus experiments in orange wine and natural wine making, albeit these are far from being commercially widely available. But closest to Professor Li Demei’s heart, is a little known French variety called Marselan, a cross between Grenache Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, that was introduced to China in 2001, and Professor Li was personally involved in the first trial of Marselan and the production of its first vintage in China in 2003. Twenty years on from that first vintage, Marselan is now widely planted in many parts of China and has found great expressions in various terroirs. China seems to be the spiritual home for Marselan. We can say with confidence that the best expression of Marselan wine made anywhere in the world today is China. Professor Li has also become one of the most prominent advocates to promote Marselan as a signature grape of the Chinese wine industry.
Two further masterclasses at the UCW booth were hosted by Professor Li Demei along with the winery representatives on the second day, 20th March. They explored each of the wine regions represented here at Prowein in greater detail. The morning session covered the wine regions of Xinjiang and Ningxia Helan Mountain East Appellation. The Xinjiang wine region was represented here by Tiansai Vineyards and Xiangdu Winery from the Yanqi Basin sub-region and Chateau Loulan of the Tuha Basin sub-region. Ningxia wine region was represented by Kanaan Winery (MULANDO), Legacy Peak Winery, Chateau Mihope and Great Wall Chateau Terroir of the Yinchuan sub-region, and Xige Estate from the Qingtongxia sub-region.
The afternoon session explored the wine regions of Beijing, Hebei, Shanxi and Shandong. Beijing-Fangshan region was represented by Chateau Lion. Hebei was represented by Canaan Winery, Domaine Franco-Chinois and Great Wall from the Huailai sub-region, and Great Wall Chateau Huaxia of the Jieshishan sub-region. Shanxi-Taigu region was represented by Grace Vineyard, whilst the Shandong-Penglai region was represented by Longting Vineyard and Great Wall Wine.
On the last day of the fair, 21 March, Professor Li gave a high profile masterclass at the Prowein Forum, entitled ‘Encountering the diversity of Chinese wines’. This was very well attended, and included Sarah Abbott MW from the UK in the audience. Fifteen wines from seven regions were selected for this highlight masterclass, including an exclusive chance to taste wines from the Yunnan wine region, notably LVMH’s Aoyun 2017.
After the final masterclass, we interviewed three audience members. A German winemaker who has been following the Chinese wine industry’s progress with interest over the past few years remarked how Chinese wines have made great strides in a relatively short period compared to the time frame we usually expect a new wine region to develop.
A wine student based in France commented on how impressive the Chinese Marselan wines tasted and Professor LI has convinced him that Marselan should be promoted as a signature wine variety of China.
Sarah Abbott MW was particularly interested to extend the discussion with Professor Li after the Masterclass. She congratulated him on the informative and compelling delivery of the masterclass, and commented on the impressive diversity shown in the wines selected. Sarah, who has been to Ningxia and visited a number of wineries there, was delighted to see that the Chinese wine industry is continuing to make impressive progress, “Some of these wines are showing great fineness and character. China is showing so much promise. The key is to show the world what makes Chinese wine quintessentially Chinese. What is China’s unique character?”
Despite industrial action in Germany during the Prowein period leading to disruptions to public transport and resulting in subdued overall visitor numbers to the fair this year, there were no signs of slack at the UCW Chinese wine pavilion. The booth enjoyed ceaseless traffic and inquiries throughout the three days. What a great testament to the belief that Chinese wine is capturing the wine world’s attention and imagination.
The Chinese delegation was altogether younger than the last contingent that came to Prowein in 2019. They consisted of second generation winery owners, younger marketing executives and winemakers. Many of them were able to communicate with visitors in English, German and French. They were fully at ease and evidently enjoying the first hand interaction with the most diverse group of wine professionals from around the world. Some visitors came to the booth serendipitously, others came purposefully and expectantly. Some have never tried Chinese wines, others were well versed in the various subregions and the development of Chinese wines. But all agreed that Chinese wines are now of considerable quality and interest, worthy to be noticed and experienced by many more wine lovers around the world.
“I am pleasantly surprised by the diversity shown in these wines here. China is so compelling as a new wine region. We need to get it on the radar of international wine lovers.” Says a wine PR executive, after attending Professor Li’s first masterclass.
“China presents a terrific opportunity. I am very keen to start exploring.” Says a UK based distributor.
“It was such an amazing experience to taste these wonderful Chinese wines. It is my first time and totally eye opening.” Says an Italian wine professional.
A new chapter for Chinese wines on the international stage
Prowein provided a rare opportunity for the international wine trade to taste over a hundred Chinese wines in one place, and for wine trade professionals to speak intimately with the winery owners and winemakers. In turn, the Chinese producers were rewarded with a renewed sense of purpose and optimism. They engaged with first hand reactions and suggestions from wine professionals across the world. They gauged the international landscape for the wine trade and glimpsed into what it takes to be an international wine brand.
“Chinese wines have already proven themselves in terms of quality, consistently winning numerous prizes at international competitions in recent years. The next steps for many of the Chinese exhibitors will be about pragmatism and progress in exporting wines and international brand building.” Says Professor Li, “The reactions and feedback from all these professional international visitors at Prowein have really sharpened our confidence and focus.”
Indeed, there were many constructive discussions with distributors and promoters, even resulting in orders and route-to-market strategies being negotiated at the fair. This was undoubtedly a bright start for many of them intent to carve a global pathway for their wine.
“The success of Chinese culinary culture around the world would surely serve as a great motivator for the Chinese wine industry.” Says Mr CH’NG Poh Tiong, “However, I do not think Chinese wines should restrict itself to pairing with only Chinese food. French wine is not just for French food, nor is Italian wine only paired with Italian cuisine. Chinese wine is diverse enough to go with any food! We just need to get Chinese wine out there on the international stage.”
Chinese wine is entering a new age or a renaissance, and this is an exciting moment in the world history of wine. With a spring in their steps and joy in their hearts, onwards and upwards is the mantra for this delegation of Chinese wine producers, they will surely go from strength to strength.
To the next chapter – making Chinese wine international whilst showcasing distinctive national and regional characters – let us raise a glass to toast to Upward China Wine!
Canaan Winery & Domaine Franco-Chinois
Focal wines: Domaine Franco-Chinois (DFC) East Garden Dry Red, DFC Reserve Marselan, Canaan Chapter & Verse Reserve Merlot 2017
Some visitors did not know that China made wine at all. But after tasting our wine, they showed great interest.
Distributors from Canada, Finland, France and several other countries expressed their willingness to discuss cooperation. We will follow up to explore distribution and brand building in overseas markets.
Focal wines: Tasya’s Reserve Marselan 2019, Tasya’s Reserve Aglianico, Deep Blue Dry Red
Our wines are terroir driven, so you can experience what familiar varieties taste like in a different terroir like China.
At present, some of the intended customers are from Southeast Asia, such as the Philippines and Vietnam; and some are from Europe, France and Germany.
COFCO Great Wall
Focal wines: Connoisseurs Longyan Amber Orange Wine, Chateau Sungod Syrah 2015, Chateau Sungod Chardonnay 2016
Our most popular wine at the show was the Longyan wine. This is our unique grape variety in China. Many people said after tasting it that this would interest Western consumers.
Our other winery in Ningxia, Tianfu Winery, also received a lot of interest, because many people are familiar with the high profile Helan Mountain East region of Ningxia.
Currently most of the interests are from northern Europe: Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the UK. We have signed some new cooperation agreements. In the future, we will enter these markets and promote our products mainly through restaurant networks.
Focal wines: Viognier Dry White Wine 2019, Reserve Dry Red Wine 2019, Limited Edition Dry Red Wine 2019, 10th Anniversary Limited Edition Dry Red Wine 2019
Our Viognier wowed everyone and was the most popular white wine. A Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot, and a Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah blend also stood out.
We have received several inquiries from France, Germany, and Switzerland, mainly Switzerland. We have talked about export details and will actively follow up these leads.
Kanaan Winery (Mulando)
Focal wine: Mulando M365 Dry White 2021
Many visitors were so curious about our Riesling and were all very impressed after tasting it. Although we are mostly focussed on the domestic market, we may consider foreign markets in the future, and will fine-tune our products according to the feedback from targeted markets.
We received interest from two clients, one from Sri Lanka and one from Sweden. They inquired about our pricing and found them reasonable. They mentioned that there is a lack of Chinese wines in their home markets, and some curious customers would be very interested in trying high-quality Chinese wines.
Focal wines: Selection Chardonnay 2021, Festival Year of the Rabbit Dry White Wine, Festival Year of the Rabbit Dry Red Wine
It is evident that the international market is deeply interested in national characters being reflected in an emerging wine country like China. For example, characterful varieties like Marselan, or culturally influenced ranges such as our Festive Year of the Rabbit wines.
We have received some sales interest from Canada and Slovakia. Buyers in Uruguay and the United States have also left their contact information and are asking for prices.
Focal wine: Jade Dove Single Vineyard Cabernet Gernischt 2018
Our Single Vineyard Cabernet Gernischt was the most popular wine in the whole product range. Many visitors were looking to taste something uniquely Chinese, and Cabernet Gernischt represents something characterful from China. Everyone was so pleasantly surprised after tasting it.
We have received some purchase inquiries, mostly from Northern Europe, such as Germany and the Netherlands. This trip has really motivated us to speed up the development of the EU market.
Focal wines: Reserve Petit Manseng Dry White 2020, ‘Lan’ Marselan Dry Red 2020
Visitors particularly praised our Dry Petit Manseng and Marselan dry red. Without exception, everyone showed expressions of great surprise after tasting the Petit Manseng. There were many active inquiries for prices. Going forward we will discuss pricing with our partners. In China our main channel is ontrade for the Petit Manseng. For the overseas market we will target Chinese restaurants and also some flagship western restaurants.
We received some contact information of potential importers, and was please to have met Mr. Yuan Ching HU, President of the Chinese Culinary Association of Germany. In addition, we also have made contact with the Wenzhou Chamber of Commerce, and will follow up with in-depth discussion about possible collaboration.
Legacy Peak Winery
Focal wines: Kalavinka Dry Red, Family Heritage Dry Red, Jinyu Chardonnay
Our Family Heritage dry red wine was the most popular. Visitors praised it as very balanced and soft after tasting it.
This exhibition made me realise that the whole world is very curious about Chinese wine and wants to know where to buy Chinese wine. Chinese wineries should get out there more, take up more opportunities to look at the world, and it should be easier for more wine lovers around the world to find Chinese wines!
We have just completed an order of almost 4,500 bottles from the Bernard Magrez Group in France. In addition, we are also following up with customers in Switzerland and Austria.
Focal wines: Viognier Dry White, Marselan Dry Red, Princess Semi-dry White 2020
Our Viognier was the most popular white wine, and the Marselan was the most popular red. The visitors thought that our wines would appeal to European tastes. There were interests from South America and the US in addition to European customers, most of the interests were in the Viognier as they found the price to quality ratio to be the most attractive.
We have received lots of contact details from potential customers, and will actively follow up with them. We will look to work with partners to expand overseas channels, develop distribution and customer networks.
Focal wines: 20K Cabernet Franc 2020, Chasselas Dry White, Marselan Dry Red
We have certainly gained more confidence in our wine and our wine region after exhibiting at Prowein. Because the visitors here are all wine professionals, after tasting our wines, they were full of praise, which gave us more confidence in our wine quality and brand potential.
We have started to negotiate with five or six interested customers, including Germany, Ukraine, Italy and other countries.
Ukraine is currently at war, but I think we still have a chance to get our wine out. They don’t have any Chinese wine on their wine list yet. We will have more in-depth exchanges in the future.
We are about to start second round negotiations with two buyers in Germany tonight.
These positive feedback and activities on the back of the trade fair also strengthen our willingness to step out.
Focal wines: Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Red Wine (Presidential Grade) 2017, Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Red Wine (ShiGui) 2017
Our two “Castle” wines were well received. Many visitors remarked that our ‘Presidential Grade’ wine has a good sense of structure and balance.
Customers from Germany and Italy have expressed interests and we will follow up after the show.