The ambition of Chinese wine producers to play among the world’s top players is “unbelievable”, says Lenz Moser, consultant winemaker to China’s biggest producer, who is steadfast in his belief that China is the future.
Lenz Moser, Changyu’s Austrian winemaking consultant and the inspiration behind Chateau Changyu Moser XV in Ningxia
“China is the future because the market is exploding as we speak,” said Lenz Moser, consultant winemaker to China’s Chateau Changyu since 2005, speaking to the drinks business at ProWein in Düsseldorf. “The world is going Chinese and the importance of China as a market is growing exponentially.
“Everybody is going to China and for the first time the Chinese are coming to Europe. There will be an exchange and they will be taking over our wine culture in the future and that’s why I’m so happy when we have an exchange here [at ProWein]. You are not going to stop China. They want to show that they have the right to be among the top players. It’s unbelievable, the ambition that’s there. The Chinese wine culture was always there but it was always among the top upper classes. Now it has been democratised in a positive sense.”
Earlier this month Vinexpo predicted that wine sales in China will grow by 39.8% in the next three years, which would lead the country to become the world’s second leading largest wine market after the US. But while wine imports into the country are expected to grow, exports of Chinese wines have been less dynamic, with much of its production consumed domestically.
Chateau Changyu, or Changyu Pioneer Wine Company, is China’s oldest and largest wine producer, having been founded in 1892, and is currently the only Chinese producer available in the UK. While its wines had previous been on sale in Britain through Berry Bros & Rudd, and are on wine lists at London’s Mandarin Oriental and The Dorchester. However this year marked the first time that its wines were listed on the shelves of a major UK supermarket.
Chateau Changyu Moser XV in Ningxia
Both Tesco and Sainsbury’s will carry Changyu wines from this this year, said Moser, who also is in talks with other off-trade outlets in the UK. Priced between ￡10-12, Sainsbury’s will stock theChangyu Noble Dragon Red – a blend of Cabernet Gernischt and Cabernet Sauvignon – from the Yantai region in the coastal Shandong Peninsular in the east of the country, and the Changyu Noble Dragon Riesling.
“At the moment, we are the only big Chinese producer going abroad,” explained Moser. “We feel that Changyu is the only competitive wine estate outside of China and that’s what we are doing to establish the quality of Chinese wines and the image. I think it’s a very sound and clear strategy, and for the next two years thats what we are doing. By then I hope that competition will catch up and bring their own stuff, because at the moment we are completely alone. We are like Chateau Musar was 20 years ago. They put Lebanon on the map.”
On their mission to raise the profile of Chinese wines, Changyu has built a number of European-style chateaux across China in recent years, including Chateau Changyu Moser XV – a €70m winery in Ningxia that was built in collaboration with and named after Moser. It now has eight chateaux across six Chinese wine regions.
The flagship red, Chateau Changyu Moser XV is a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. However being Austrian, Moser said he “had to have a white”, and so created China’s first “blanc de noirs” – a white Cabernet Sauvignon – starting with the 2015 vintage.
“At the moment, at this scale, we are completely alone,” said Moser. “We are the only ones in the UK market. The next stage is innovation on the world stage. We produce a white Cabernet Sauvignon which is not happening anywhere else. I only have red grapes to play with, I’m Austrian, I needed a white.
“The trick is to have mature grapes and to press 10 minutes after the crush. It’s sweet enough but not in the sugar – it’s fruit sweetness. We will do more of this in the future because the initial reaction has been crazy. We only made 120 bottles for year one but in six months we sold out.
“People want to be surprised by new things as long as they taste good, and not for the sake of it being new. We are having fun with it. The quality is there and sommeliers are happy as they have something new and exciting to show.”
As well as its Chinese wine operation, which has a turnover of nearly US$800 million a year, Changyu is also the principal shareholder in Marques del Atrio, which has four wineries in Spain. It also owns property in Bordeaux, having acquired its first Bordeaux property in October 2015, after buying Bordeaux Supérieur estate Chateau Mirefleurs from the Castel Group for €3.3 million.