The wine trade celebrates China's 70th anniversary

The 1st October 2019 marks 70 years of Communist party rule in China, and the whole country is celebrating - including wineries and the wine trade. Jim Boyce looks at what's happening.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash
Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

The People’s Republic of China’s celebrates its 70th anniversary today, on 1 October 2019. It’s a major milestone that’s inspired responses from across the wine world.

Domestic producers have poured praise on everything from The Motherland and The Chinese Dream to the Communist Party of China and its role in “national rejuvenation”. Overseas producers and their China importers offer congratulations and, in some cases, have created special labels. And not surprisingly in a country that is officially communist (but in many ways hardcore capitalist), wine deals abound for those seeking to crack a few bottles over the week-long break. On a day highlighted by an epic military parade, it seems everyone wants to be part of the Party’s party.

An opportunity for local producers

This moment of great national pride, one that highlights the country’s rising technical prowess, seems like a boon for China’s better producers. Despite quality growing by leaps and bounds the past decade, sales for domestic producers have lagged as consumers associate local wine with the plonk of yesteryear and balk at prices that are high compared to imported labels. A nation contemplating qualitative victories is an opportunity, especially given how rising disposable income, the smartphone and online retail have shifted power to increasingly savvy consumers. It also helps that an increasing number of those consumers are curious and now buy wine for taste, rather than status.

Chinese mega-producers like Great Wall, Changyu and Dynasty have embraced the 70th anniversary narrative. Great Wall, which marked its own 40th birthday last year, has been pushing its “five-star” wine—the same number of stars as the national flag—and highlighting its sponsorship of moments linked to China’s global emergence, like the 2008 Beijing Olympics, 2010 Shanghai Expo and ongoing World Horticultural Expo in Hebei.

Newer producers, including those piling up contest medals and positive reviews, have also made these associations. Take Xi Ge, a sprawling high-tech winery that the government of the Ningxia region hopes will emerge as China’s Penfolds. One online poster features photos of key moments of the past seven decades, like the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the return of Hong Kong in 1997 and China’s first successful atomic bomb blast in 1964—after all, nothing pairs with wine like a mushroom cloud. Fans can buy a commemorative wine available in a standard 750 ml bottle or, for those who want to let loose, an imperial.

New labels galore

Foreign wineries are also stepping up at a time when imports have seen their poorest performance in years. Argentina’s Catena Zapata, for example, hosted a wine dinner on the Great Wall of China last month and included a 2017 Cabernet-Malbec specially labeled for the PRC’s 70th anniversary. Chile’s Multi winery created a tribute blend of Cabernet, Syrah and Carmenere that can also be served during next year’s “friendship year” between China and Chile. Even more in-depth is a project between Israeli winemaker Arkadi Papikian and his Chinese counterpart Wang Zhu, to create a red blend in Hebei Province. It was bottled under the label Double Seventy; Israel celebrated its own septennial anniversary last year. Such examples underscore just how far the wine scene has come from the days went France dominated. 

It’s not just wineries getting in on the anniversary, but also everybody from wine importers, distributors and regional promotion representatives, to equipment suppliers and other trade people. Included among those who are putting national imagery on their brands are overseas wineries that have Chinese investors, from Australia’s Sunshine Creek—owned by Chinese packaging industry billionaire James Zhou—to Canada’s Bench 1775, which has a Beijing owner. Given what can happen to companies that fall on the wrong side of public opinion, and China's national policies, that is a safe move. 

Too late to order, not too late to celebrate

Anyone who follows the Chinese wine scene via social media app WeChat has no doubt witnessed a steady stream of wine labels juxtaposed with Chinese flags and congratulatory messages. “The country is rich, the country is strong.” is a common theme—along with a reminder to order quickly to ensure pre-holiday delivery.

For those who didn’t order in time, there are deals to be had elsewhere. Those in Shenzhen can always go to restaurant Terrace and enjoy the Buy One, Get One Free special on South African Warwick Estate’s “The First Lady” all week long. That seems like an appropriate wine for anyone seeking to honour the Motherland.

Jim Boyce

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