How Chinese winemakers have succeeded (without stealing technology), Australian Dialogue article, April 17 In (Western) news reports, China has been accused of using joint ventures with Western companies to steal intellectual property from foreign competitors, yet joint ventures between French and Chinese winemakers provide a stark contrast to this narrative about international competition.
Image from: Global Times
A few years ago, the Chinese wine industry"s focus was on overcoming rising labor costs and improving grape quality. Now, the biggest obstacles they must overcome are the image of the country's wine products and the increasing competition from foreign counterparts. Speaking of competition, it is perhaps ironic that some foreign competitors are more than happy to share their knowledge and skills with their Chinese counterparts. Unlike making cars, making great wine does not require proprietary technology. There are no secret recipes in this industry, only hard work and problem-solving skills.
China is currently the sixth largest wine producer, with 1.14 billion liters bottled in 2016, just behind Australia's 1.3 billion liters. In terms of consumption, China is the fifth largest wine consumer. During survey visits to China's major grape-producing regions from Shandong to Ningxia to Yunnan, we encountered a blend of local and foreign winemakers, farmers, wine experts and local government officials committed to establishing local wines on the international stage. Winemaking success relies on the support of similar international collaborations.
For Chinese wines, the result has been that quality has been improving rapidly. Not long ago, really good Chinese wines were very hard to find. Today, however, quality Chinese wines are readily available in major cities, and major distributors are beginning to add more Chinese wines to their import portfolios.
Although China's wine exports are still very low, with only $1.2 million worth of wine exports in 2016, compared to $3.2 billion for France, more and more supermarkets as well as wine stores in Europe and the United States are stocking the best Chinese wines. Perhaps Chinese winemakers are unlikely to threaten their French counterparts any time soon, but they are now undoubtedly on the world wine map.