Australia promotes wine designed for Chinese market

Hundreds of Chinese wine workers gathered in the heart of one of Australia's best-known vineyard areas Tuesday to learn about a wine range tailor-made for the Chinese market.

Almost 600 staff from global beverages giant Pernod Ricard were in South Australia's Barossa Valley for a crash course in wine appreciation, with "sensory lab" sessions and tasting classes to equip them as connoisseurs.

They are preparing for the launch of what is believed to be Australia's first-ever wine range specifically developed for sale and consumption in China, the Jacob's Creek "Winemaker's Selection".

Pernod Ricard China's managing director Con Constandis, in charge of the Jacob's Creek distribution, said wine was a booming industry, with the burgeoning middle class developing a taste for premium imported brands.

"Affluence, aspiration are some of the things that come to mind," Constandis said. "Twenty years ago 20 percent of the population was urban, 80 percent was rural, now it's a 50/50 split between the two."

"They're using it to make a statement about themselves," he added.

Horace Ngai, deputy managing director and a Chinese national with 20 years of industry experience, said consumers were growing more sophisticated and the art of wine appreciation itself was gaining popularity.

"They are going for quality and substance, moving away from just a brand name," Ngai explained.

"Part of our role now is to educate (consumers) how to appreciate wine. That takes some real time and effort."

He said as many as 200 million Chinese consumers now considered wine a part of their lifestyle.

The trainees, most of them sales representatives and customer service officials, will return to China to sell the wine with an insider's knowledge of what Asian drinkers want, he added.

"Fresh, vibrant, not too alcoholic with soft tannins. Not too aggressive and not too hard," explained Jacob's Creek's chief winemaker Bernard Hickin.