Monday, June 30, 2008

Winery taps into the Chinese wine market

Filippi brand to be sold on far-off shelves

The Chinese straying from tea as their beverage of choice shouldn't be hard to believe.
It didn't take long after the red curtain was raised in the late 1970s for China to embrace Coca-Cola.

And when the Germans settled into the eastern port town of Tsingtao, beer quickly reached the lips of those used to rice wine.

But a goblet of cabernet to go with the kung pao?

It seems like an odd pairing, but a burgeoning middle and upper class in China has spawned a new appreciation for wine, and wineries like the Joseph Filippi Winery in Rancho Cucamonga want to tap into that market.

This past week, the winery sent 200 cases of bottled wines and 2,700 gallons of wine not yet bottled to Tianjin, China, where it will be sold to different stores and restaurants. Winery owner Joe Filippi said his client in China is planning on opening a tasting room where most of the wines will be from the Cucamonga Valley.

According to Filippi, California wineries may be shipping large quantities to China, but countries like Australia and Chile are also getting their foot in the door.

"As their middle class grows, they want the American lifestyle and part of that is wine," Filippi said. "We have to take advantage of that because if we don't, other countries are going to catch up to us."

Wine isn't new to China, but for decades, the wine has been of low quality. A surge in imports has changed that, leading to connoisseurs with deep pockets and discerning tongues.

Wine imports surged 52 percent in the first nine months of 2007 from a year earlier to 27 million gallons, according to an Associated Press article.

The climate is especially ripe for American wineries to export owing to the weak dollar abroad.

But wineries aren't the only ones eyeing this lucrative market.

Marc Curtis started the Redlands-based China Wine Tours, which will have its first group tour in October bringing American wine enthusiasts to visit the wineries in China. Curtis said the wine scene has changed dramatically, and small boutique wineries are popping up in the provinces of Shandong, Shanxi and Xinjiang.

"Right now, China is the sixth-largest wine producing country in the world and experts say by 2058, they'll be No. 1," Curtis said. "I think it's going to be sooner than that."

If that's the case, Chateau China doesn't seem so odd after all and as the country develops a generation of wine snobs, Cucamonga wines could play a role.

This week's shipment by the Filippi winery included zinfandel, syrah, cabernet franc and a ginseng-laced red table wine. Some production took place at Galleano Winery, which has also shipped its wines to China in past years.

"These days if you go to a store, it's difficult to find things that aren't made in China," said winery owner Don Galleano. "It's been very much one way as far as trade goes so it's good to see other areas get products made in the United States."

Wendy Leung