Australia's best-known winemaking families have embarked on a trade mission to China just as the Communist Party's austerity drive clamps down on banquets and gifts. However, they say tightened budgets will ultimately benefit their premium wine brands.
Australia's First Families of Wine, a group of 12 family-owned wineries, are spending two weeks travelling through Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong to meet retailers, officials, shoppers and the trade press over a series of dinners and tastings.
It is the first time representatives from the families have toured China. They have made similar trips to Britain and North America.
"As a group, we are passionate about family history, provenance, stories and a pride for our flagship wines which are made from some of Australia's most iconic vineyards," said AFFW chairman and the managing director of Taylors Wines, Mitchell Taylor. "We believe these values sit both culturally and socially in alignment with the values of China and these values are going to be the driving message for AFFW on this trip."
China looms as a key growth market for Australian wine, where it is the second-biggest supplier and importer after France.
Australia has a 15 per cent market share in value and 13 per cent in volume in the imported wine market, with the region's growth a handy counter to flat sales in mature markets such as North America and Europe.
In the year to December 2012, Australian wine sales to China rose 15 per cent.
Mr Taylor said the Chinese were impressed by the history and longevity of the wine brands that form AFFW. "They love it. The Chinese respect tradition, family values and longevity, so when we are talking 1200 years of wine-making heritage among the 12 of us, you can just see they take that in."
Formed in 2009, AFFW brought together 12 family-owned wineries to help lead a public campaign to highlight the quality and diversity of Australian wine.
Its members include d'Arenberg, Jim Barry Wines, Brown Brothers, Taylors, Henschke, Yalumba, Howard Park, De Bortoli and Tyrrell's, and represent 16 Australian wine-growing regions across four states.
Mr Taylor said an austerity campaign by the Chinese government had drained demand for wine, but that once the thrift policy eased higher-priced wines would emerge stronger. "The austerity measures have put a dampener on things, but when you are talking to the Chinese they believe it will improve in another 12 to 18 months."