Vinexpo Asia: China drives world wine market

The fourth Asian Vinexpo featuring 840 exhibitors from 32 countries opened Tuesday in Hong Kong as the global economic crisis pushed exporters to focus on the world's most promising market: China.

"A little like 2009 vintage Bordeaux, this Vinexpo is exceptional. There are more exhibitors and we expect more than 10,000 professionals, including a large number from China," said chief executive Robert Beynat.

The annual wine and spirits fair is key to Hong Kong's bid to turn itself into a wine trading centre that sits on the doorstep of the vast Asian market with Chinese consumers showing a growing demand for foreign products.

French wines occupy almost half the 8,500 square metre site, confirming their place as a favourite among Chinese consumers.

"China and Hong Kong are the most dynamic Asian markets with per capita consumption rising and strong import growth (8.7 million cases in 2008)," Beynat said.

"European and US producers are turning towards these markets to recover from the (economic) crisis."

Italian, Spanish and German wines round out Europe's offering at the fair, with the US doubling the number of its exhibitors and Australian and New Zealand vintners boosting their presence by 30 percent.

Asia-Pacific accounts for 50.6 percent of world spirits consumption with an expected 4.7 percent increase between 2009 and 2013.

Although Japan remains the region's biggest wine importer, China will have nearly caught up in the next three years, according to Vinexpo.

China is expected to be the world's seventh-largest wine consumer by 2013, it said.

"There are 100 to 150 million people in China who can afford to drink wine. It is these people, and not only millionaires, that we must reach," said Alain Vironneau, president of the Bordeaux Wine Council.

Added Beynat: "Our challenge is to explain to Chinese consumers that there are good wines at all prices and they're not reserved just for the elite".

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