So we’ve just been informed that the Chinese are now owners of over 100 wineries in Bordeaux (out of about 8000). That means that 1.25% of Bordeaux is now owned by the Chinese!
But we’ve also been informed that the Chinese are now buying more Burgundy wine than Bordeaux! So what do the Chinese prefer? Here is where the puzzle starts. The rise in wine estate acquisitions in Bordeaux by the Chinese isn’t a sudden revelation of their love of Bordeaux wine, rather the search for a new “status symbol” to show their wealth.
To be honest, I believe the Chinese to be a little wary of Bordeaux wines. Why? Well for two main reasons: counterfeit wines that find there way on to the Chinese market and are scaring the Chinese from acquiring bottles such as Chateau Lafite Rothschild (of which about 70% on the Chinese market are fake). They are fed up of spending up to 6000$ on a bottle that turns out to be counterfeit!
The other reason is the Chinese governments clampdown on gift giving – a national pastime – and where offering expensive bottles of wine would have been considered the ideal gift.
What’s more the Chinese have moved on. After spending several years discovering and buying Bordeaux wines, they decided to move on to the other premium wine region, Burgundy. Here the challenge is different and even more exciting as it is a challenge to discover and understand “Bourgogne” as it is now suitably called and it’s unique “terroir”.
So why do the Chinese buy more chateaux in Bordeaux then in Burgundy? As mentioned earlier, the Chinese are buying “chateaux” in Bordeaux as a status symbol. They are easier to identify as you’ll find a beautiful chateau in the middle of the vineyard, whereas in Burgundy, the estate (they don’t call them chateau here) is normally located in one of the beautiful villages and it’s vineyards (or “parcelle” as it’s called in French) are spread around the village and beyond. You rarely own a whole vineyard in Burgundy, you own a section of one vineyard….maybe 20 or 40 rows of vines, and some more in another and so on….So in Burgundy it’s difficult to find an estate on it’s own vineyard. It’s called the burgundy exception. So for the Chinese who are looking for a visible “all-in-one” tangible estate, they look to Bordeaux. You get it all in a glance!
The Chinese are however unperturbed by Burgundy’s intricacies and are frequently found, in small groups, visiting the vineyards and trying to understand the famous “expression of the terroir”, of which the Burgundians are so proud. Many small-sized estates producing some of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on the planet just have to be discovered. One Chinese businessman, Louis Ng, bought a Burgundy estate, the Chateau de Gevrey Chambertin. He is, to my knowledge, the only Chinese estate owner in Burgundy. Strangely enough it is a chateau and not an estate) in the middle of its vineyard…one of the rare specimens in Burgundy. But this proves a point.
I have many clients from Asia: China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore and they marvel at the authentic and unique way in which wine is still made in Burgundy, the history and the men (and women) that make the local wines so unique. Bordeaux is more forthright, whereas Burgundy is more subtle. Or to say it in local terms, Bordeaux has the body whereas Burgundy has the elegance!
So going back to my first point as to whether they are Bordeaux or Burgundy, I think the answer has to be both. But more importantly why are so many Chinese visiting these famous wine regions in the first place? Its not just about their love of French wines, it’s also about curiosity.
China will be the 6th largest wine producer by 2016 and wine regions are sprouting in several parts of the country. There is already a fight between the Shandong province and the Ningxia region, with both vying to become China’s answer to Napa valley. The Chinese government is giving grant money to anyone who wishes to develop agricultural land and build a winery and new winery estates are popping up everywhere. China has the biggest domestic tourism market in the world and big ambitions too. China wants to rival with Bordeaux’s wine quality in the next 30 years and make the domestic wine market a fine wine market too. The Chinese are here to discover, enjoy and emulate. Many are on a fact-finding mission as the wine culture is a new culture which they wish to embrace. China is a superpower with big ambitions…become the number one wine production country in the world. They are not there yet, but give them a few more years and who knows?
So could this be the missing piece of the Chinese puzzle? Only time will tell.