HONG KONG: Asia’s biggest wine and spirits fair opened in Hong Kong Tuesday, drawing the world’s top producers from France to Lebanon despite China having reported the first decline in wine consumption in a decade.
Two Lebanese vineyards, St. Thomas and Moraco, registered booths at the fair.
According to a survey by Vinexpo Asia Pacific, China’s wine consumption fell by 2.5 percent last year, after 10 years of uninterrupted growth at a rate of 25 percent per year.
The drop comes as Beijng reins in luxury spending and extravagant banquets, against the backdrop of a slower economy, and an anti-graft campaign backed by President Xi Jinping to root out official corruption.
However, show organizers, who expanded the trade fair by 50 percent in floor space from its last edition in 2012, are adamant there are still strong opportunities for the wine and spirits markets in the region, because of increased demand from a growing middle class.
Winemakers and industry executives also say that the economic slowdown will not prevent people from drinking, but the focus may now shift to midrange wine and spirits.
“This is the largest Vinexpo Asia Pacific ever. The markets of South East Asia and China are still booming,” Vinexpo chief executive officer Guillaume Deglise said.
“There are many markets in Asia where the middle class is expanding and this represents a great potential for the wine and spirits industry.”
Xavier de Eizaguirre, chairman of Vinexpo, added: “Little did we know two decades [ago], Asia led by China and Japan would reach 63 percent of world’s spirits consumption.”
In 2013, China overtook France as the world’s largest consumer of red wine, guzzling more than 155 million 9-liter cases, or 1.865 billion bottles, that year, according to Vinexpo.
But an official austerity drive in China has meant people are increasingly turning to cheaper wines.
“Cheaper wines are selling better because of the anti-corruption campaign. The government did not say you shouldn’t drink,” said Angel Lee, director of Hong Kong-based wine trading company MBL.
Pier Luigi Calcagnile, marketing director of Italian winemaker Caviro, said: “We consider good value for money very important for Asia. Premium wines are important to promote quality but if you want to expand, you need to approach also the middle class.”
Some 1,300 exhibitors from 31 countries attended the event packed with tasting sessions as well as discussion forums for sommeliers, distributors and importers.
This year, Chinese wine tastings are also a feature, along with a bar showcasing innovative cocktails for the first time, organizers say.
French exhibitors make up more than 500 booths, while producers from Italy to New World countries such as the U.S. are also vying to gain market share.