China is now New Zealand's sixth-largest wine export market by value. Wine exports to China for the financial year to June 2015 exceeded NZ$27 million ($18 million), said Natalie Potts, marketing manager, Asia, for the New Zealand Winegrowers.
The top three markets for New Zealand wine exports are the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom. "As Chinese consumption of New Zealand wine grows, we expect to see China rise up through the ranks," said Potts.
Wine is New Zealand's sixth largest export good by value. Wine exports last financial year were worth over NZ$1.4 billion, on track to meet the 2020 target of NZ$2 billion.
It appears there is a rebalancing across many different sectors of the Chinese wine market, she said. In the past few years, the imported wine market in China slowed. However, in 2015, there were some positive improvements. New Zealand wine exports to China increased nearly 10 percent in value in the first half of 2015.
Last year also brought the beverage closer to the everyday wine lover in China, someone who buys it increasingly online, to be had with friends while socializing. Such a lifestyle is a long-term positive for the wine industry, said Potts.
She said wine from New Zealand offers "unparalleled purity - not just a pure environment where the grapes are grown, but also the purity and freshness of fruit character that shines in the wines". This purity is key in China, where provenance, authenticity and food security are major concerns for consumers, said Potts.
To be sure, New Zealand is a relatively small producer of premium wine, making less than 1 percent of the world's volume. Its vineyards, however, produce stunning results, despite the fact that making wine in New Zealand is not cheap or easy, she said. Environmental challenges, smallish size - just over 1,600 square kilometers - and remote geographical location mean the New Zealand wine industry is quality-focused, not quantity-driven.
Still, the islands span an area whose ends are farther apart than Beijing and Chengdu. "These factors give us a diverse range of climates to succeed with many varieties and styles."
From its warmer northern regions, New Zealand grows Bordeaux-style red blends and Syrah in Hawke's Bay. In much cooler southern regions, wines such as Pinot Noir and Riesling are grown. In fact, Central Otago is the world's most southerly grape growing region.
New Zealand's modern wine industry produces unique flavors like Sauvignon Blanc, which makes up over 85 percent of its exports. However, in China, consumption of New Zealand wine is more balanced between red and white.
Grassy, fresh Sauvignon Blanc, complex, cherry-scented Pinot Noir and rich, powerful red blends are Chinese consumers' favorites, said Potts.