China's growing thirst for Australian wines may be a golden ticket for now, but whether the demand will last remains unknown even as vintages from 'Down Under' gain new fans amid a surge of growth in broader Asia.
Australian bottled wine exports to China soared by 15 percent in 2012, bolstered by a sales push targeting the country's wealthy drinkers and making Australia the top overseas market for wines priced at more than A$7.50 ($7.90) a liter. Overall, exports gained three percent globally, with declines in bottled wine exports to some countries offset by an increase in bulk wine sales. Damian Torresan, a winemaker at Koppamura wines in South Australia said, "China has been a bit of a golden ticket for a lot of places sitting on bulk wine for the last few years".
Though China was by far ahead, bottled wine exports were good across Asia, and went up by 11 percent in Japan, six percent in Hong Kong and seven percent in Thailand. In many of these countries, the changes reflected an increase in wealth and status, with wine being the means of showcasing both. "There is an increase in wealth and increasing wine awareness amongst people in Thailand, so people are experimenting and buying more wine. There is a 'social status' associated with drinking wine so the story is similar to that of China, though at a lesser degree," said Louisa Aherne, a spokeswoman for Wine Australia, a government agency that supports the wine sector.
One big advantage for Australia is that unlike many other wine growing regions in the world, growers there can plant new varieties in close proximity, enabling them to ride out problems that could hit one variety of grape. "In Australia we've got a region like McLaren Vale where we make Cabernet, Pinot, Shiraz, Chardonnay, Riesling. We have around one hundred different varieties within a 25 km radius," said winemaker Torresan.
While growers were pleased with their gains, they remained wary, noting that while China is an area of massive potential growth, some of the gains may well have been due to short-term conditions. Some claim that to a certain extent, the current success is due to luck, as the production of wine has been good while the U.S and Europe have both been having a poor season since 2011.