Though France and Italy still leading winemakers, Chinese production to grow another 77% by 2014

BORDEAUX - This was unexpected: China is now one of the largest producers of wine in the world. The world's most populous country, which only recently discovered wine, has pushed ahead to take seventh place in global rankings in 2010 according to a study by the International Wine and Spirit Record (IWSR), conducted for the international exhibition for Bordeaux wines, Vinexpo.

Until 2007, China did not rank among the top 10 producers. Its exponential growth is expected to continue, with estimated 77 percent growth in its production from now to 2014, which IWSR says would be "the strongest five-year increase the world has ever seen."

China is thus expected to be the growth engine of the sector in the coming years, ahead of the United States and Russia. Production is steadily developing thanks to Chinese investment, or Europeans with local stakeholders in the region south of Shanghai.

The room for growth remains significant in a country of an estimated 100 million wine consumers today, said Robert Beynat, the director of Vinexpo. Bordeaux wines first offered the most fortunate Chinese a taste for grands crus, but are now looking to democratize consumption, introducing less expensive wines to a larger number of people. "We want to make them understand that wine is not only for the elite, and that there are some very good bottles in the five to ten-dollar range," Beynat explained.

Rosés on the rise

In spite of the Chinese breakthrough, more than half of global production is still concentrated in three countries: Italy, France and Spain. The first two are neck-in-neck in terms of production rates.

Even with a small harvest last year, France, with a production of 419 million cases, edged out Italy as the global wine leader, a title it conceded to Italy in 2009. The US, Argentina and Australia round out the top six, ahead of China.

On the consumption side, the IWSR predicts that the United States is poised to become the top consuming country in 2012, ahead of Italy and France. The consumption of non-sparkling wine in the U.S. should increase by 9 percent from now until 2014, with Italy and France at only 1 percent and 4 percent respectively. The general tendency in Europe is toward a more selective attitude on the part of the consumer, even if it means paying more in order to find the best blends.

In terms of type, rosés are showing the most potential. They are set to expand by about 8 percent from now until 2014, though representing 9 percent of the total wine produced in the world. Next come effervescent wines, with an expected 6 percent increase. Reds are projected to grow by 4 percent, according to the IWSR, with whites coming in at 2.5 percent.

Wine is ever more an engine of trade: even in France, one out of every four bottles consumed is imported. Overall, Italy is the top exporter in terms of volume, France is first in value.

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