While winemakers in a number of western Europe appellations – most particular Bordeaux – are complaining of poor grape harvests this year, vineyards in Hungary’s Tokaj hills – famous for their sweet dessert ‘aszu’ wines – have enjoyed one of the best ever seasons.
Despite an unusually cold September and some light frosts in early October, the remainder of the month, into early November brought clear, cold nights, misty mornings and clear, warm sunny days – ideal conditions for nuturing the so-called “noble rot” needed to turn the grape into an ‘aszu’ berry needed for what Louis XIV of France reputedly declared to be “The Wine of Kings and the King of Wines”.
“A bright and fresh fruit bouquet of citrus blossom, green apple with hints of tropical fruits and vanilla.”
It’s the sort of “tasting note” you would expect of wines from the luxury French brand Moët Hennessy – except that this one is made in India.
This week, the label launched its first products made specifically for the Indian market: its Chandon Brut and Chandon Brut Rosé sparkling wines.
A Chinese manufacturer and direct seller of health, cleaning and beauty products with Malaysian roots may not be the most obvious cross-border investor in the South African wine industry. But Guangdong-based Perfect China is selling volumes of classic wine with a French heritage produced in South Africa’s vineyards. It is one more sign of the potential for Asian investors with an innovative eye for Africa.
The luxury goods market is heavily reliant on China, that much is clear. So any economic slowdown or reduction in asset prices – or anti-corruption drive, for that matter – can hurt the market.
But “luxury” is a pretty diverse market. So which products are most affected by the whims of the Chinese consumer, or by the direction of the government?
Hungarian vintners will be hoping for sun this weekend – not because of any harvest considerations, but because it’s the Budapest Wine Festival – a five-day extravaganza of wine, food, music and dance which started quietly on Wednesday but which will be revving up from Friday afternoon, if the skies stay clear.
Wine night in Nanning
When Luca Famiglietti, a 45-year-old Italian wine supplier, first came to China in 1995, he never thought he would end up selling wine from his motherland in Qinzhou Port, Guangxi province two decades later.
But despite the allure of richer trade areas, Qinzhou, China’s sixth “free-trade port”, is emerging as a trade hub for the poorer southwestern Chinese region, including the provinces of Guangxi, Yunnan and Guizhou.
World wine producers are crying in their cups. According to the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV), world wine production fell 6 per cent in 2012, to a 37-year low. And smaller grape crops in Argentina, as well as France and Spain, are to blame.
This is bad news for Argentina, where consumers’ love affair with Malbec – at home and abroad – has put the country on the world wine map.
The Christmas holiday season is the perfect traditional moment to open a good bottle of Champagne, Muscat, Bordeaux or another French wine, in France and many other places.
Sales of Bordeaux, France’s most famous red wine, increased again this year – not bad given the sluggish world economy, especially in Europe. But, it is not the French, but the Chinese who are responsible for the growth. And with their appetite for the Bordeaux wine, their appetite for the Bordeaux wineries is growing too.
Another day, another rich Chinese buys a French vineyard? Much as they did with Chinese art, Chinese investors are convinced they are onto a good thing with French red wine: they have bought some 30 to 40 vineyards in Bordeaux in the past two years, since China became the French region’s largest export market.
But now, according to reports in the Chinese press, an unnamed Chinese industrialist has scored the biggest Bordeaux coup to date, with the Chateau Bellefont-Belcier estate in the region’s prestigious Saint Emilion wine producing area (pictured).
For the rich Chinese entrepreneur who has everything: a vineyard in Burgundy, Hunter Valley or Napa. For the rest of us? A share in a wine investment fund that can spread our risk a bit. Who wants to put all their grapes in one basket?
Chinese private equity firm Hina Group has launched the $100m Hina Vineyard Fund to raise money from rich Chinese who want a share of the mainland wine boom without having to traipse around muddy fields picking out their vines.
“Made in China” is a familiar mark on many products in the UK, but not imported wine. That is about to change, as Waitrose has announced that it will become the first British supermarket to stock Chinese and Brazilian wine later this month.
Following the successful launch of two Indian wines last year, the retailer is working its way through the Brics.
Clamping down on imports, as Argentina has done, is one way of trying to spur domestic production. But introducing regulations that then make life tough for exporters looks bizarre, if not suicidal – especially when you’re trying to grow your way out of an economic downturn.
Here is a case in point: Argentine wine has a great reputation for quality and affordability – indeed, in April wine promoters staged a major worldwide celebration of its flagship varietal Malbec.
For foreign brands looking to add a little extra oomph to sales in China, going local is nothing new. Hermes did it with their Shang Xia brand, Swiss watchmakers have put dragons and phoenixes on various designs, while even the humble Oreo has adapted to Chinese tastes.
But Chateau Lafite, the French winemaker, is taking it a step further with work getting underway on a vineyard on Chinese soil.
It’s not exactly the sound of a bubble bursting. But China bears looking for further indications of a weakening Chinese economy could do worse than look at the results of Sotheby’s latest fine wine auction in Hong Kong.
According to Bloomberg, Sotheby’s has failed to sell all of the wine on auction for the first time in 17 sales. The biggest loser was Château Lafite-Rothschild – the Bordeaux wine that is most coveted by China’s super-rich.
Russians still scoff at Mikhail Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign that saw Soviet troops tearing down vineyards – but which only drove hardened drinkers’ determination to concoct their own booze.
A quarter of a century later the Kremlin is considering subtler, market-oriented methods to fight alcoholism that could give a boost to the domestic wine industry even if they fail to modify Russians’ excessive drinking habits.