China vineyard planting figure misleading, suggests trade data

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China’s wine grape planting accounts for only a small percentage of its total grape plantings, according to industry officials, casting doubt on widespread reports this week that China has more land under vine than France.

Image: 2014 harvest in Xinjiang © LI Demei

China has approximately 13,000,000 mu (867,000 hectares) under vine at present, according to the China Alcoholic Drinks Association(CADA).

However, wine grapes account for only around 10% of these vineyards, with ordinary table grapes making up the rest, announced officials yesterday during the first meeting of the fifth executive committee of the wine division to the China Alcoholic Drinks Association.

The statement casts doubt on reports that China now has more vineyard land for wine than France. Those reports were based on figures from the Paris-based International Organisation for Vine and Wine (OIV), which said that China has 799,000ha of land under vine.

What appears clear is that China’s overall wine grapevine plantings have grown quickly in the last few years, often backed by local government support. This is despite some evidence that several growers pulled out vines in 2013 because they were struggling to make a profit.

In 2012, 665,600 hectares of grapes including table grapes and wine grapes were planted in China. The figure rose to 714,667 hectares in 2013, according to National Bureau of Statistics.

Though the quality of domestic wines have been improving very fast in the last few years, ‘many wine estates were built blindly, while little breakthrough was achieved in the selection of variety and plantation technology,’ Wang Zuming, head of the wine division of CADA, was reported by local media as telling this week’s meeting.

The lack of highly trained winemakers, a disproportion of price and value in addition to an ‘old-fashioned’ marketing strategy are among other major obstacles faced by the local industry, Wang was reported to have said.

China’s largest wine producer Changyu reported a 6.72% decrease in net profit and a 3.8% drop in revenue in 2014, which suggests challenges in the sector.

China produced 1.16bn litres of wine in 2014, a 0.35% increase on 2011, according to government figures. The production led to an overall revenue for the sector of 42.1bn CNY (US$6.79bn), 9% up from 2011, but overall industry profits are believed to have dropped by 13.5% to 4.39bn CNY over the same period.

The production figure is likely to increase further. But, ‘many of the existing vineyards were planted recently, and haven’t been producing fruits,’ said the CADA official.

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