China"s growing middle class and its taste for wine have prompted a group of importers to pursue fine wines from California.
The 20 representatives from the Shenzhen Wine Industry Association, which represents more than 2,000 wine importers, recently visited California"s wine regions, including Sonoma and Napa counties, and the Woodbridge winery in Lodi.
"For a long time, California wines (had) a relatively low market share (in China) because of the wineries" insufficient understanding of the Chinese market," said Wu Yunping, president of the Shenzhen Wine Industry Association.
"When they were waiting for Chinese importers to reach out to them, they missed the opportunity to tap into the huge potential of China"s consumer market," he said.
To facilitate California wines" exports to China and exchanges between California wineries and Chinese importers, a liaison office of the association was set up in San Ramon, California, during the delegation"s visit, and a platform - "Wine to China" - was launched.
The platform provides such services as researching the wineries and product information, logistics, and certification for source traceability to counteract counterfeits, according to the association.
As a result of the delegation"s visit, Shenzhen expects to import 300 containers of California wines every year in the next three years.
In recent years, the Chinese wine market has seen explosive growth. The current market is worth $11.7 billion, but it"s expected to reach $30.7 billion in three years, according to industry data.
As China"s first free-trade zone, Shenzhen started importing wines in 1980, and has since dominated the country"s premium-wine importing business.
In 2016, Shenzhen"s wine imports ranked first in China at $678.9 million, about 30 percent of the nation"s total.
Although American wines have a small share of the Chinese market, which is dominated by French vintages, the Chinese have developed a taste for US wines, especially the high-end ones, according to Wu.
The next 10 years can be the "golden decade" for China"s wine market, as the country is expected to become the world"s largest wine market by 2027, driven by the growing middle class and the millennial generation - the primary wine consumers in China, Wu said.
"Wine to China" is also part of the association"s strategy to build Shenzhen into China"s largest wine-trade center.
"It"s well known that California wines are of premium quality, and they never lack buyers. But the wineries here are excited at the prospect of tapping into the growing Chinese market," said Stephanie Xu, founder and president if US-Asia Innovation Gateway, a Silicon Valley-based organization aimed at advancing economic opportunities between the US and Asia.
"Wine to China" was actually the brainchild of Xu, who got the idea when she heard US delegates complaining about wines during their China trips.
"With the help of "Wine to China", the US-made wines can build their brand-recognition among Chinese consumers and compete with other, more established international wine brands in the Chinese market," she said.