Wine and Spirits

Chinese are buying fine wines ‘like never before’, says US auction house Acker Merrall

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 December, 2017, 11:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 December, 2017, 11:00am

Chinese people are increasingly snapping up fine wines from around the globe, especially in Hong Kong which has become an import sourcing hub for mainland consumers, according to American wine auction house Acker Merrall & Condit.

“The Chinese buyers are now the most important segment of clients for us,” said Acker Merrall’s chairman, John Kapon, during an interview in Hong Kong ahead of one of the company’s wine auctions.

The city has in recent years become one of the two most important wine auction markets in the world, along with New York, according to the company. Acker Merrall has sold almost half a million bottles of fine wine in Hong Kong over the years, of which around 90,000 bottles went to mainland customers.

Starting out as a package store in 1820 in the US, the Manhattan-based company offers a deep inventory of fine and rare wines for immediate sale, most of which can only be found at wine auctions.

China is winning the war of wine; buyers from China are collecting and buying the best wines like never before
John Kapon, chairman, Acker Merrall

In terms of proportion, Chinese buyers – defined as those who live in the Greater China region including Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland – have already surpassed those living in the US. They account for over half of all Acker Merrall’s revenue from clients, while the number is 40 per cent for American bidders.

“China is winning the war of wine; buyers from China are collecting and buying the best wines like never before,” said Kapon.

A country more famous for tea-drinking, China’s wine consumption has taken off in the last 10 years, amid rising disposable incomes and greater exposure to western lifestyles via movies and foreign travel.

As such, China is set to overtake Britain and France to become the world’s second-largest wine consumer by value – behind the United States – by 2020, according to the International Wine & Spirit Research (IWSR) organisation. And what consumers in the world’s second-largest economy want is high-end wines, according to industry professionals.

“Wine consumption – particularly of standard and premium wines – will double, while low-price wines face a decrease,” said Guillaume Deglise, CEO of Vinexpo, a wine trade exhibition company that organises a China Wine Market forum every two years in Hong Kong.

“In five years, there will be a significant increase in imported sparkling wine in the market. Chinese consumers’ drinking habits will change dramatically in terms of the quality and choices of their wines,” said Deglise.

In 2016, China was the world’s fourth-biggest import market for wine, behind Germany, Britain and the United States, according to research by Vinexpo. Deglise sees it overtaking the US in the next five years.

Much of this growth will come from what the study described as the “burgeoning mainstream segment”.

More and more white-collar workers in the mainland are developing a taste for good quality wines from overseas vineyards.

Michelle Li, 28, who works in marketing in Shanghai, buys wines regularly online. Li said she has almost never bought China’s home-grown wine brands, preferring to stick with foreign ones.

“Domestic brands don’t offer the same value for money as the international ones,” said Li. “And I am more familiar with foreign brands.”