Moet bets on bubbly in China with sparkling winery

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

YONGNING COUNTY, China (AP) — France's Moet Hennessy is betting on China's taste for bubbly with the launch of sales this month by the first foreign-owned Chinese winery devoted to sparkling wine.

China's appetite for Western-style wines has boomed in the past two decades, though the favorite still is red, a color associated with health and good luck.

Sparkling wine consumption more than tripled from 3.7 million bottles in 2009 to more than 13 million last year, according to International Wine and Spirit Research, a British firm. During the same period, total wine consumption rose from 5 billion to 8.8 billion bottles.

"More and more young people, more and more white collar employees, office ladies, enjoy wine and also sparkling wine," said Shen Yang, director of Moet Hennessy's Chandon winery in the Ningxia region of China's northwest.

"We will bring this wine to the dinner tables, into the home and into the life of these young and energetic people," said Shen.

Sparkling wine also might get a boost from an 18-month-old campaign by the ruling Communist Party to press officials to rein in lavish spending on entertaining.

The campaign has hurt sales of high-end spirits, but Shen said it has focused the attention of more sophisticated young urban drinkers on alternatives such as wine.

China is now the world's fifth-biggest producer of wine, as well its fifth-biggest consumer.

A Chinese state-owned brand, Chateau Sungod, also makes sparkling wine but has so far marketed it primarily for banquets and official functions.

While red wines are the staple of traditional gift packages in China, sparkling wines are increasingly seen as modern and fun, said Jim Boyce, a China-based wine blogger.

"When you look at what people actually like to drink, what they enjoy, white wine does very well and increasingly sparkling wine does very well," Boyce said.

The wooden doors on Moet Hennessy's winery building have the look and feel of wine barrels and its rooftop terrace overlooks the Helan mountains.

In a field in which most foreign producers are required to work through joint ventures with Chinese partners, the government took the unusual step of allowing Moet 100 percent ownership of its winery in an effort to promote growth of the industry.

The surrounding vineyard of Chardonnay and Pinot noir grapes is a joint venture with a Chinese company.

Foreign companies that build chateaus and winery buildings can own them for 70 years under the initiative, according to Cao Kailong, director of Ningxia's Bureau of Grape and Floriculture Development.

This year, Moet Hennessey plans to sell about 70,000 bottles of its 2012 vintage from Ningxia. Plans call for production of 250,000 bottles from the 2013 vintage for sale next year and then 300,000 of this year's vintage for sale in 2015.

The China version has been tweaked for a palate not used to the acidity normally found in champagne, said Gloria Xia, a winemaker at the Ningxia winery.

"We would stress the aroma and the texture would be very fresh and more balanced," she said.