By James Wells, reporting from ProWine China in Shanghai

New varietals marketed through Chinese online service providers and retailers including WeChat and Tmall are the next frontier for Australians entering our largest export market, one local winery believes.

The Blue Pyrenees team at ProWine China

Blue Pyrenees chief winemakers and CEO, Andrew Koerner, told TheShout he has developed a plan which specifically targets younger Chinese consumers which he sees as the next key platform for Australia’s largest export market.

According to Koerner, the first part of the plan is to introduce rosé to China, which he announced at this week’s ProWine China exhibition in Shanghai. Blue Pyrenees was one of only a handful of among over 600 exhibitors who regard rosé as an emerging style in the red-dominated Chinese market.

“We were surprised and excited that our distributor wanted to take it, as we have never sold rosé here before. We are calling it Bone Dry Rosé – 98 per cent Pinot Noir and two per cent Pinot Meunier. Like most Australian wineries we were previously using leftover red, and sweetening it to try and make a reasonable drink. For us it was a very small change, as we were already using Pinot Noir, all we did was not sweeten it and process it straight away with almost no time on skins to create a pale pink variety. As a result we have made eight times the amount of rosé than we did in the previous year. No one has really asked for rosé yet, but the Chinese market works very fast and we want to be ahead of the game.

The second part of the strategy is to target younger consumers with these ‘gateway’ wines using online sites.

“The younger consumer that shops online is the emerging market. We have already been selling in China for 14 years through distributors and the sales were very small and our wine that did sell was very hard to find in the on premise generally because there was a lot of gifting.

“The next generation coming through – they are younger and they are buying online and they are drinking it – which is fantastic. This is part of a big change and to be here and to be ahead of the curve is going to result in good sales hopefully,” he said.

To capitalise on this expected trend, Blue Pyrenees has appointed a new distributor with a young female sales team that is well connected into the trends within the market. The distributor is assisting the Australian winery sell its wine through its own online site in China as well as the popular WeChat online community, while other wineries are also using the Alibaba site Tmall. But as always price is a factor in the online environment.

“When it comes to price, of course like all Chinese, they very good at seeking out the best price and they love negotiating – it is their national sport.”

Koerner believes online sales will follow changes he has observed in the on-premise market in recent years.

“When I first started coming to China six years ago and went out to dinner, all we could find was maybe one spirit and one beer on the menu and no wine – it was horribly disappointing. To go to a restaurant you now see people drinking wine and you are now able to order wine. Previously traditional Chinese restaurants did not do that. So the younger generation, and on premise has evolved and we couldn’t be happier.

“Red wine has been the traditional base and it is still the biggest by far. The younger generation is coming through and those we have shown it to are experimenting and trying rosé and we hope sparkling wine and even white wine is starting to come through. Red wine will remain the dominant player, but maybe it will end up 75 per cent red and that other growth is in rosé, sparkling and white.

Koerner’s advice for other wineries considering expansion into the Chinese market is simple.

“You need to get here and have a look because it is so big and so daunting, you need to work with someone. If you are Penfolds you can have your own office, but for the little guys like us, find a good distribution partner to work with and trust.”

The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

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