French wine imports to China will fall 50% in 2020 due to pandemic
Published: Mar 26, 2020 08:03 PM

Then foreign minister of France Laurent Fabius tastes wine during his visit to Beijing in May, 2014. Photo: cnsphoto

China's red wine industry has entered an unprecedented winter. Although the coronavirus outbreak is easing in China, it will continue to hit the industry and lead to 50 percent drop in sales as the pandemic spreads in Europe and beyond.

In France's Bordeaux and Champagne, owners of the vineyards are in one of the most crucial moments of the year as the grape vines are sprouting and work in the field cannot be postponed or it will affect the whole year's production. However, things have become challenging due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The French government has issued strict quarantine orders, and work in the field can be partially carried out via work rotation while the quarantine measures are in place, said Wang Wei, director of Champagne Bureau in China.

According to statistics from the China Alcoholic Drinks Association, the top three wine-exporting countries to China are France, Australia and Chile. China imports about 2 million bottles of champagne a year from France, and imported French wines in total, including champagne, are expected to drop by 50 percent, industry analysts said.

"The outbreak hit champagne consumption in China hard because the outbreak coincided with the Chinese New Year, when alcohol sales were strong," said Wang. "But as the epidemic is easing in China and consumption is expected to pick up in months, Europe is in the midst of   the outbreak, causing disruption to communications with local wineries and logistics," Wang said.

If the situation in France does not improve, many Chinese wine dealers may run out of imported wines as the pandemic is contained in China and consumption is picking up.

Du Song, chief representative of Borie-Manoux of northern China and an industry insider, told the Global Times on Thursday that there is definitely an impact on the red wine industry in China and beyond.

"In the current Chinese wine market, red wine is not in the category of fast-moving consumer goods. The main consumption channels are business banquets, restaurants and gifts, in which wine is good for sharing with friends. Because this outbreak coincides with the Spring Festival, the restaurants closed, dinners with big families and friends all were cancelled, so there has been no opportunity to consume at all," Du said.

Analysts believe that France and other major wine-consuming countries such as UK, the US and Australia are expecting an even bigger impact from the outbreak.

Wang Zuming, a representative with China Wine Circulation Association and a senior wine expert, told the Global Times on Thursday that the coronavirus outbreak has certainly hit the wine industry but red wine products are relatively low in consumption compared with other countries and other types of wines.

"The volume of red wine in China is too small. After all, it has not really entered daily consumption compared with white wine," he said.

However, Wang said that red wine in China is mostly for gatherings such as parties and banquets, so when there is an outbreak like this virus, the impact can be huge to a shrinking market.