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Napa Valley wines may make shift toward Chinese palate

Publication Date : 15-08-2014


More mainland investors are finding their way to wine country in California's Napa Valley, as the Chinese are buying not only bottles of wine but vineyards as well.

"The Chinese presence in Napa will explode in the next five years," predicted Charles Kimball, owner of Chinese Napa Tours, which offers Mandarin translators. "This is only the beginning of the influx."

Napa Valley, located north of San Francisco, is considered one of the premier wine regions in the world and according to Kimball, four vineyards in the area have Chinese owners.

Guilliams Vineyards, known for its cabernet sauvignon, was purchased in the last six months; Sloan Estate was purchased a year ago; and Silenus Vintners, the first Napa winery to be acquired by a Chinese-American company, was bought by Silenus International Group back in 2010.

Kimball said Kien Choang, a Vietnamese conglomerate, purchased winery facilities and 13 acres of land from the Michael Mondavi Family Estate. The vineyard now exports all its wine to Asian markets.

Quixote Winery, famous for making petite syrah, was sold to a Chinese company, Jinta Vineyards and Winery, for $20 million in the last six weeks; it was the company's second winery purchase.

Former NBA player Yao Ming also bought a vineyard in Napa Valley in 2011 and started Yao Family Wines.

Recently, a cooperative of wineries in southwest France called Vinovalie said they are producing wines tailored to the Chinese palate, according to CCTV. In California, winemakers are doing the same.

"In California, we produce wines for a global palate and also for the European palate, which is more constrained," said Linsey Gallagher, vice-president of international marketing for the Wine Institute based in San Francisco. "The Chinese prefer a fruitier wine," she said.

Flavors of ripe fruit, candied fruit with aromas of violets are attractive to Chinese wine drinkers, Gallagher said.

"There is a lot of opportunity in the China market for Californian wines," she said, adding that the microclimate and soil in California are ideal for making certain types of wine.

Wine exports from California to China have increased by over 300 per cent in the past five years, reaching $70 million in 2013, according to Gallagher.

"A California wine such as zinfandel goes great with Western food and also traditional Chinese food. It does very well in China as it is food-friendly with light hints of sweetness," said Gallagher, who has traveled to China several times, attended the Hong Kong Vinexpo, and participated in trade missions to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Chinese traditionally have preferred red wine, such as cabernet sauvignon, which Gallagher described as a bigger and bolder wine.

"Many Chinese know California as an iconic destination, but not a lot of people know about it as a destination for wine," said Gallagher.

California wines produced in Napa, Sonoma and the Central Valley are exported to 125 countries worldwide.

Scott Carney, dean of wine studies at the International Culinary Center in New York, founded as the French Culinary Institute, said there have been French wines produced for the American market "to suit the regional preferences".

Carney said like the Chinese, Americans are also partial to a sweeter and fruitier style of wine, whereas the French appreciate fruit but also other dimensions of a wine's flavor and the sense of terroir (a sense of place, such as the geography, geology and climate of the vineyard, expressed in the wine).

Corentin Chon, brand ambassador at wine importer Fruit of the Vines Inc, also said some wines are produced to fit a certain market. For example, in a young market such as China, customers prefer wine that has more sugar and thus is easier to drink.


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