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02.29.2008

The Great Sipping Sound of Hong Kong

Mark my words: China is the next big thing when it comes to wine. Wine consumption that is. I've had more than a few Chinese wines that make it clear that they've got a long way to go when it comes to making decent table wine, but when it comes to drinking wine, China is moving up fast in the ranks of wine consumers.

As China mints more millionaires every week, international business hubs like Hong Kong and Shanghai are exploding as centers for spending the newfound wealth of the nation's richest citizens. Increasingly, a share of that cash seems to be spent on wine.

According to various sources that track such figures, wine imports to China have been growing by 50% year over year. Most of the volume of wine is primarily cheaper stuff from Australia and Chile. But increasingly, more affluent tastes are leaning towards top tier wines.

As evidence, you need look no farther than two recent developments.

Last week both Bonham's & Butterfields and Acker Merril & Condit announced they would be holding wine auctions in Hong Kong. These two heavyweights of the wine auction world don't do anything unless they are going to profit from it, and it seems they think there's money in Hong Kong. I'm betting they're right.

Perhaps more meaningful, the governor of Hong Kong has abolished all import duties on wine and spirits. One of my fellow wine bloggers Jim Boyce recently relayed the news on his blog the Grape Wall of China.

Finally, I had dinner the other night with a friend of my wife's from business school who has started a chain of wine bars in Shanghai who says in no uncertain terms that the business is going gangbusters.

If I had any cash lying around I might invest. I'm sure there's some colorful metaphor that would capture the potential that China has as a wine consuming nation, but all the ones that I can think of at the moment are horrible clichés.

What is the sound of 100 million mouths sipping?

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