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From Chile, grape expectations

By Pu Zhendong | China Daily USA | Updated: 2015-05-25 10:30

Vintner promotes country's unique, easy-going wines in China, Pu Zhendong reports.

For the past two years, Mariano Larrain has been convincing Chinese wine-lovers that Chilean reds stand out not only for their competitive price, but also for a blend of "unique quality and handmade passion".

"Every vineyard in Chile is different in terms of the grape and the soil, but generally Chilean wine is more fruity and easy-going, which is quite welcome in China," said Larrain, 31, who has been running the La Cava De Laoma wine store in Beijing since 2013.

"We specialize in family-owned boutique wineries from Chile that respect the distinctiveness of their terroir with relatively small production," Larrain said, adding that some of the brands are made by his family.

Larrain came to Beijing to study at Tsinghua University in 2011. It was a time when he shrewdly sensed the booming demand in the Chinese wine market.

"At that time, Chinese people bought a lot of wine, but their knowledge of wine was obscure. For example, nobody would be able to tell you where to buy good wine," he said.

After graduation, Larrain decided to stay in Beijing and introduced his family business to China. Meanwhile, he has been advancing another objective: Promoting Chilean wine culture to Chinese consumers.

"For me, the wine I sell is not normal, but outstanding. It is manmade from small and personal vineyards, with a lot of passion in it, something completely unique," Larrain said.

Marcelo Papa, one of the chief winemakers for Chile's Concha y Toro, the biggest winery in South America, said: "Chile has a cool and sunny climate, which helps to produce a very juicy and fruity style of wine."

The country has surpassed Australia to rank as the world's fourth-largest wine exporter, with an export volume of $1.9 billion in 2013, the International Vine and Wine Organization said in a report.

Noticeably, Chile has been tapping the lucrative Chinese market for the past 10 years, with the establishment of the free trade agreement between the two countries in 2006.

Last year, Chile exported 34.2 million liters of bottled wine to China, with the value of $124.5 million, making it the third-largest exporter to the Chinese market, according to Chinese customs.

According to the arrangement of the FTA, 97 percent of the two countries' products, including wine exports from Chile to China, have become tariff-free since the beginning of this year.

Xi Kang, secretary-general of the Qingdao Wine Association, said Chile's over-capacity for wine production and cheap labor have added to its price advantage, compared with the US and European counterparts.

"The positioning of Chilean wine to mainly focus on exporting medium- and low-end products instead of domestic consumption, has determined its outstanding price and performance ratio," Xi said.

A report by International Wine & Spirit Research showed China consumed 155 million nine-liter cases (1.87 billion bottles) of red wine in 2013, making it the world's biggest consumer of red wine.

However, policy factor has exerted strong impact on opening up Chinese market for Chilean wine, even with the price edge.

"Since the recent government crackdown on corruption, wine sales have dropped dramatically, as the government-focused market started to shrink," he said. "But now the real Chinese wine consumers are finally emerging: Young professionals that enjoy wines daily at home or with friends in a restaurant."

Larrain considers this interesting type of customer as the most rewarding, because they are eager to learn more about wine, even though they do not have high purchase power.

"I will try organizing more wine tastings and charity events to boost people's knowledge about Chilean wine," he said. "If you want to learn about wine, you need to drink."

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From Chile, grape expectations

Mariano Larrain promotes Chilean wine culture to Chinese consumers. The 31-year-old is a graduate of Tsinghua University and runs a wine store in Beijing.

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