Mark Tanner
11 November 2020 0 Comments

Monday night saw many of Shanghai’s wine connoisseurs converge on Wine Australia’s eighth annual China Wine Awards. China Skinny’s founder Mark Tanner was honoured to be a judge.

Few exporters have had as much to celebrate as Australia’s collective wine exporters. In 2014, Australian wine sold to China was just 40% of the value of French wine. In the space of five years, Australian wine exports have flown past the French to become the top selling wine in the world’s largest red wine market. For every dollar that Chinese drop on imported wine, they spend 35 cents on Australian wine versus 29 cents on French wine. Australian wine also commands the highest price per bottle among the top-10 wine exporters to China.

Those successes in China are unlikely to smell so sweet after last week, when Australian-China relations reached their ‘lowest ebb’ following verbal instructions by Chinese authorities to effectively impose a trade ban on wine, copper, barley, coal, sugar, timber and lobster. This has re-energised talk in Australia about diversifying exports, the big challenge is to where?

The recalibration of international relations as a result of the new US President (congratulations Joe!) and Covid-related travel difficulties impeding much-needed face to face meetings between China and Australia mean that the challenges are unlikely to be sorted soon. For categories such as wine, there is a good stockpile of Australian product in China, which will ensure a limited impact if things can be resolved before the Year of the Ox. If it drags out it will be tough for many, but we know from other geopolitical spats with countries such as Japan, Korea and even Norway, that favour bounces back relatively quickly for consumer goods.

Australia has a strong brand in China. This will be bolstered when tourism and education return and visitors increase their exposure and affinities with Australian products. Australia was rated ‘the most welcoming country‘ to Chinese tourists for many years running, so let’s hope that there isn’t too much love lost and that Australians will again have a chance to show off their hospitality and rebuild consumer aspiration in China. In the meantime, we know many consumers are miffed and aggrieved that they may not be able to get some of their favourite Australian brands for a while.

With the exception of the Covid-related sales dip and present geopolitical challenges, the trajectory of Australian wine in China deserves to be applauded – it provides lessons for many countries and industries exporting to China. A strong governing and promotional body in Wine Australia, has supported innovative and hard working brands and support channels (there are 2,900 Australian wine distributors in China supporting 2,700 wineries) to endear Chinese consumers to drink and gift their fine vino above all others. A favourable free trade agreement helped too.

Wine Australia has delivered the basics well, such as providing tasting roadshows, award recognition, and partnerships with key opinion leaders and other platforms for brands to educate and promote their wines. The wine body has also understood and addressed Chinese consumer pain points with initiatives like the ‘tasting wheel’ back in 2015, which identified appropriate Chinese terms and flavours that fit in with wine descriptions which may be unfamiliar to Chinese drinkers. Many individual brands have also contributed to the rise of Australian wines.

In Australia, initiatives such as ‘China ready’ cellar doors with China-friendly purchasing methods, shipments, memberships, digital marketing and language have helped grow popularity. But it is the thoughtful and innovative initiatives in China by Australian brands, partners and individuals which were celebrated in Monday night’s awards.

Our hat goes off to Telford who scooped up two of the five awards for online promotion and advocacy. What we appreciated was how they utilised research to identify consumers born in the 90s as a segment who would enjoy their wines. To reach them they collaborated with hot pot chain Dalongyi to create a positive association between one of the post-90s favourite pastimes and their well-matched yellow tail Moscato wine. The initiative was supported by integrated on-premise and off-premise promotions, digital marketing with a strong focus on Douyin and private groups, a pop-up-store and online gift boxes, resulting in a material jump in sales and awareness.

Shanghai Fortune PinU scooped up the offline award, capitalising on the popularity of TV and video to showcase of TarraWara Estate and the Yarra Valley. Through a variety show on video platform iQIYI and Jiangsu Satellite TV, and tie-in with Ctrip, they built preference for the region’s wine and tours. Travel+Leisure won the outstanding feature story category with a colourful write up about a South Australian winery tour. Australian Wine Communicator of the Year went to Ian Dai for podcast shows covering resonant topics such as the evolution of Australian wine, boutique wines and the drinking culture of Australians.

Brands beyond the wine category can take inspiration from the innovative initiatives and relevant communications from both the winners and other worthy finalists. Here’s to the winners, to us all learning from them, and more stable geopolitical times ahead.

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