Over the past couple of years Canadian wines have slowly but surely gained a foothold in the Chinese market, with British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley proving particularly popular amongst consumers. The region is Canada’s second-largest wine region and produces a vast array of styles ranging from full-bodied red wines to aromatic white wines and richly sweet ice wines made with frozen grapes during the harsh winters.
In 2016 China imported a total of 291,852 litres of wine from Brtish Columbia, yet in 2018 that number jumped to 463,459 litres according to Statistics Canada. Chinese consumers have long been interested in Canada’s luscious dessert wines, but this new growth pattern seems to be driven by growing interest in the region’s red wines.
One big success story is the 200-acre Mt. Boucherie Estate Winery in West Kelowna in the Okanagan Valley. Today some 15% of the winery’s business is in Chinese exports and the winery’s general manager, Jesse Harnden, explained that “from day one, this was what we were going to do.”
Mt. Boucherie’s strong focus on the Chinese market was inspired by owner Sonny Huang’s previous work as an exporter to China for a large Okanagan producer. This work revealed to Sonny the potential of the Chinese market and Chinese consumers’ real interest and appetite for the region’s unique wines.
One key opportunity for the region’s wineries to continue growing their presence in China is through education and carefully-targeted marketing campaigns. Harnden explains that, “we don’t have any pictures of frozen grapes. It’s all Lake Okanagan, and we try and present the image, that many aren’t aware of, that we are actually a warm climate in the summer.”
This type of consumer education is essential in communicating the Okanagan Valley’s diverse range of wine styles which stem directly from the region’s warm summers and freezing autumn and winter conditions. Hot summer days help to ripen red varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, while the cold freezes the grapes and enables winemakers to craft incredibly concentrated and intense sweet wines.
Harnden concluded that, “like everything else in our industry, exports included, we’re just getting the word out there.” There is still plenty of work to be done on boosting exports of British Columbian wine to China, yet the industry is off to an incredibly strong start with China currently accounting for a remarkable $7.9 million or 84.7 percent of all British Columbia wine exports.
Of these exports around half of the value is contributed by premium wines, especially high-priced ice wines which are frequently purchased by Chinese consumers as gifts. This strong positioning in the market and the familiarity of many high-end consumers with British Columbia’s wines puts the region in a unique position to branch out and further build their brand amongst wine-loving consumers who are already prepared to pay more for what they perceive to be well-made, quality wines.