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Winemakers push mainland sales at prestigious Vinexpo Asia-Pacific in HK

HONG KONG--Some of the world's top wine producers will attend Asia's biggest wine fair in Hong Kong this week, eyeing new consumers in the booming but still relatively untapped Chinese market.

Organizers of the Vinexpo Asia-Pacific trade fair say the slowdown in Chinese economic growth, forecast to reach 7.5 percent this year compared with 9.2 percent in 2011, will not hurt demand for imported wine.

“If the economy reduces speed they will not drink less. They might drink a little cheaper, but they won't stop now that they have discovered wine,” Vinexpo Chief Executive Robert Beynat told AFP.

“Look at Japan. During the tsunami and nuclear crisis (last year) consumption didn't decrease. You drink wine when you are happy and you drink wine when you are sad. And it's a fashionable product.”

According to Vinexpo China is the world's biggest drinker of spirits, with 995 million cases guzzled in 2010 — almost double the volume consumed in 2006.

But the growth of spirit consumption is expected to slow as wine — especially expensive French imports — becomes more popular as a gift or the drink of choice at banquets.

The average mainland Chinese drinker still only consumes 1.3 liters (0.34 gallons) of wine a year, compared with 2.4 liters in Japan and 50 liters in France.

“In terms of consumption volume in Asia, it's grown 100 percent in the past five years. When you look at the per-capita consumption, there's a bright future,” Beynat said.

French wines still rule the Chinese market, accounting for around 45 percent of imports in terms of value, double the share of second-placed Italy.

Beynat said the statistic was typical of an emerging wine market. Like the Americans decades before them, new wine drinkers in China want French wines, the more expensive the better to show off to their friends, he added.

The next challenge for the wine industry as a whole is to boost sales of more affordable wines, including locally produced vintages.

“That's the challenge for the future, to explain to the Asians that there is good wine at every price,” Beynat said.

“For the Chinese, an imported wine has to be expensive. As they don't know wine, there's an enormous effort in information and education. They are at the beginning.”

Around 1,000 exhibitors are expected to attend the three-day expo at Hong Kong's harborside convention center from Tuesday, the organizers said.

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In a picture taken on Saturday, May 26, people chat near glasses of wine during an auction in Hong Kong. Some of the world's top wine producers will attend Asia's biggest wine fair in Hong Kong this week, eyeing new consumers in the booming but still relatively untapped Chinese market.(AFP)

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