PARIS (Reuters) - China has become the biggest export market for Bordeaux wines outside the European Union as overall exports have collapsed due to the economic crisis and a strong euro put some wines beyond U.S. and British buyers.
The sector has high hopes of the 2009 harvest with young wines being presented to the international trade and specialized journalists over the coming weeks.
"The situation is difficult for everybody," Alain Vironneau, chairman of the CIVB Bordeaux wine body, said Thursday.
"Several hundreds of vineyards are at peril due to insufficient cash...Our companies, especially the smallest, need financial support," he added during a news conference.
He called the 2009 sales year "catastrophic" with exports down 14 percent in volume and 23 percent in value.
However, he added that during the past three months there had been a slight revival that could indicate the depth of the crisis is behind and the 2009 'millisime' wines could help the sector recover again.
Bordeaux sold 661 million bottles of wine in 2009 for revenues of 3.37 billion euros ($4.57 billion) for wines ranging from low-price supermarket wines to top Chateaux.
Of that, the French themselves bought 68 percent and mainly via large supermarkets. Of the exports, 56 percent remained in the European Union.
China bought 13.7 million liters for 74 million euros, overtaking the United States that took 11.6 million liters for 139 million euros. Japan came third with the same volume as the United States.
Hong Kong is counted as a separate market where 4.2 million liters were sold for 109 million euros.
"The rise of China is undeniable and we expect that market to move up the value chain just as has happened in Japan," said Bertrand Carles, a wine trader for the Ginestet group.
"We have set up shop in Bombay because we expect India to follow the same route. And then, think about Brazil that makes no wine such as Argentina and Chile do, think about countries in Africa...soon we may be short of Bordeaux," he said.
Bordeaux makes some 2.5 percent of world wine production.
Reporting by Marcel Michelson; editing by Ralph Boulton