After a tumultuous decade of growth, China’s wine market is gripped by an economic crisis years in the making, plus a short term coronavirus crisis that has decimated the on-premise. The shape of the wine market’s recovery will determine the themes of the next 10 years, some of which are already apparent

Ever since 2010, China has been a hot topic of conversation in the wine world. Wine Intelligence conducted its first tracking surveys of consumer behaviour and attitude that year, and ever since we have monitored the transformation and growth of the most exciting developing wine market on the planet.

Ten years on, the Chinese wine market is digesting two major crises. The most obvious is of course the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, and its negative impact on the on-premise channel, which can be seen in our new China Wine Landscape report. The second crisis is the slowing of the Chinese economy after nearly three decades of unprecedented growth, which the impact of the virus has accelerated.

The other big change over the past five years – also arguably fostered by the growth of e-commerce in wine – is the growing importance of high profile and mainstream brands in the market. Evidence from the China Wine Landscapes report suggests that the larger brands with a clear and distinctive quality and reliability message are making ground as the market matures and consumers become more quality conscious.

Amid all of this, a longer-term picture is emerging of wine in China over the next decade. In the past 10 years we have moved from a market for wine as a face-enhancing expensive gift (2010) to a more mainstream, educated and value-conscious market focused on affluent, educated professionals in urban areas. The next 10 years will see mainstream priced wines start to dominate as excess becomes unfashionable, while niche products such as organic wines, rosé, sweeter whites and sparkling wines will all grow, albeit from low bases. These and other specialty products can thrive in a world of online discovery and trend-seeking.

Fundamentally, then, the coronavirus and associated economic crisis has hastened changes that were already afoot in China’s relationship with wine. The market is no longer the wild gold rush sector it was once upon a time, and the aftermath of the current disruption will be a market that is less volatile, less high-end focused, and – possibly – a bit more predictable.