Italy's winemakers see China as new top destination

Tue Nov 11, 2008 6:45am EST
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By Svetlana Kovalyova

MILAN (Reuters Life!) - Only a couple of years ago producers from Tuscany, the wine heart of Italy, used to say China was not mature enough to embrace their top quality labels.

Now, with recession hovering over their main markets in Europe and the United States, makers of premium Italian wines are turning to China where wine is becoming increasingly popular and the newly rich easily splash out on a top-price bottle.

"The economic crisis hitting Italy and other traditional markets of our wine has been felt much less in China which, therefore, has gained more importance (as an export market)," Alessandro Mugnaioli, head of foreign relations at Italy's wine promotion body Enoteca Italiana, told Reuters on Monday.

Enoteca Italiana and makers of famous Tuscan red Chianti and its upmarket cousins Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino opened The House of Tuscan Wine in Shanghai in July to promote their output in China's major industrial center.

A 1.2 million euro ($1.55 million) investment put together by Tuscan administrative bodies, chambers of commerce and Italy's oldest bank Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena would pay off as wine imports to China were set to rise after liberalization of import licenses in 2007, Mugnaioli said.

Wine consumption in China has been growing by 8 percent a year over the past few years and is expected to hit 1 billion bottles in 2011, the Consortium of Brunello producers says.

Industry experts say China may become the world's eighth largest wine consumer by 2012.