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    Natural wine is winning over China’s young drinkers, here’s why
    来源:Vino Joy News  2021-10-13 16:15 作者:NING SANG LAWATI

    The world is paying attention to the well-being of nature, our body and our soul. Concepts of ‘minimalism’, ‘natural’, and ‘organic’ are quickly catching consumers’ eyes. In China’s wine market, the niche natural wine category is beckoning to a growing group of millennials and Gen-Z and has defied what critics once dismissed as a “fad”.

     

    You may wonder, how natural is ‘natural wine’? How did it take over the China market? What’s driving natural wine growth in the Chinese wine market? Vino Joy News has talked to key importers and sommeliers to uncork the natural wine trends in China.

     

    What Is Natural Wine?

     

    There is not yet a legal definition for natural wine, but it is often phased as ‘low intervention wine’ or ‘zero-zero wine’ because it is produced without adding or removing anything in the cellar. The production of natural wine does not encourage using additives, chemicals, filtering, and even yeasts in the winemaking process, and are produced with grapes without usage of pesticides or herbicides.

     

    The wine itself has become a subject of heated contention in the wine world.  Its converters and supporters laud the wine’s virtue, authenticity and unique taste, while traditionalists decry its anarchist idealism or even denounce it as pig swill.

     

    Is It Same As Organic Wine And Biodynamic Wine?

     

    Natural wine is often confused with organic wine and biodynamic wine. The later two actually carry more solid definitions than natural wine.

     

    Organic wine typically refers to wine produced in organic methods. It can refer to vineyards adopting organic practices, which usually do not use pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and herbicides.

     

    The definition of organic wine in different countries often depends on the amount of added sulfites.  Sulfites have been a common preservative and antioxidant used in wine since Roman Times. Naturally, sulfur dioxide is released by-product of the fermentation process during winemaking, but nowadays wine producers often add extra synthetic sulfites.

     

     

    In the US, organic wine has a strict definition. To obtain the US Department of Agriculture organic certificate, only 10ppm of additional sulfites can be added into the organic wine.  Both growing of the grapes and the conversion of wine are also regulated. For instance, grapes have to be grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers. Additional agricultural ingredients used in wine cannot exceed 5% of the total product, and have to be specifically allowed.

     

    In Europe, a  wine can be defined as organic when it is produced according to the Regulation of the European Commission. The wine has to be produced from organic grapes, and using only products and processes authorized by the regulation. The maximum sulphite content is set at 100 mg/L for red wine and 150 mg/L for white and rosé.

     

    Meanwhile, biodynamic wine can also adopt organic farming methods, but they focus on the concept of anthroposophy, which means the farmers would view the vineyard as an ecological whole. Vineyards are not just about grapes, but the habitat around it, including the flowers, the animals and the soil. The farming practices are often linked with the spiritual force of the cosmos. For instance, harvesting is linked to the phase of the moon.

     

    In the US, the legal definition of biodynamic can be defined by the Demeter Biodynamic Farm Standard. It reflects the biodynamic principle of the farm as a living organism, which should be self-contained, self-sustaining and following the cycles of nature.

     

    Natural Wine Is Welcomed by Youngsters In China

     

    Towards 2000s, when natural wine enthusiasts were spreading s gospel in trendy wine bars and restaurants in the UK and the US, small importers in Asia were testing the waters with natural wine. In 2010, Hong Kong’s foremost natural wine promoter La Cabane was founded. In first-tier cities in mainland China like Shanghai, natural wine has also found its place in artisan and trendy bars like Vinism and RAC which opened its doors in 2017.

     

    Apart from modish natural wine bars, wine lovers are exploring natural wine in exhibition fairs and parties like Wine Lips Natural Wine Party by China Social Club in 2018, CRUSH Natural Wine Fest by Social Supply in 2019 and Design China’s Beijing Fair in the same year.

     

    Giovanni is a co-founder of Ziran, a small group of wine importers focused on natural wines in China. He witnessed a growing interest from the wine exhibitions and international fairs. For instance, Wine to Asia has accepted Ziran to lead the Living Wine area designated for natural wine.

     

    Founders of Ziran with Barolo producer Roberto Voerzio and his pupil Cesare Bussolo (pic: Vino Joy News)

    Founders of Ziran, Giovanni, Fabio and Water Chen, with Barolo producer Roberto Voerzio and his pupil Cesare Bussolo (pic: Vino Joy News)

    Natural wine is a growing phenomenon worldwide and the China market, which is not an abstract entity but a concrete group of curious and interested people very sensitive to trends and tendencies”, He told Vino Joy.

     

    Giovanni also co-founded Zefiro, a wine import company based in Shanghai. Searching for a new tendency in both Europe and China markets at first, he accidentally discovered the wonder of natural wine, and now it accounts for around 80% of Zefiros’ wine portfolio.

     

    As an insider of the industry, he noticed more commitments from big and structured traditional importers as well as huge e-commerce platforms. “Some of the most renowned and serious wine educators in China are already providing their students with all the information and details needed to better understand this kind of ‘unconventional’ wines.”

     

    Despite major cities like Shanghai, Shenzhen and Beijing being the main consumers of wine, Giovanni has been receiving interest from other regions. ‘Some colleagues from second and third tier cities contact us asking for these wines, and gradually go deep in the entire selection finding out other producers, their philosophy and the work behind an organic and natural wine.’

     

    And then there is an emergence of young drinkers who are ready to explore more.

     

    In Shanghai, it is obvious natural wine has become a main choice for ‘Post-90s’ consumers in these two years [referring to people born in 1990s]. There are lots of wine bars and bistros that feature natural wine as their signatures in Shanghai,” Kingsley, a sommelier at the Shanghai natural wine bar Le Verre à Vin told Vino Joy News. The wine bar has a portfolio of 180 to 200 labels, with natural wine accounting for around 50 of them so far, he recalled.

     

    Kingsley shared the same observation with Giovanni when it came to the expansion of the natural wine market. He noticed that natural wine emerged as a new category in Suzhou and Hangzhou, as well as other first-tier cities in Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai.

     

    More on second page, scroll down below.

     

     

    Jean Raphael is the founder of KC Wine, a Shanghai-based pioneer importer of natural wine since 2012. It represents around 40 estates and more than 200 SKUs.

     

    He defines natural wine as artisan and micro production’s wines made with grapes grown without any chemicals, with low intervention, and fermented with natural yeasts. It excludes any bigger production of organic wines or “no added sulfites” wines, which cannot inherit what natural wines can offer, such as the soul, temper, spirit etc.

     

    From his observations, youngsters in China are in love with natural wine from the inside out, even with the philosophy behind.

     

    What caught their attention first was the bottle and price. He noticed the artistic labels can attract the eyes and raise the curiosity of young drinkers, therefore it is more appealing compared with complicated foreign labels. On top of that, Jean pointed out traditional wines at same price ranges offer similar styles and flavors, but the nuanced tastes the young people propose are not affordable enough. Natural wines can offer a wider range of flavors, and a more accessible deal.

     

    But what stood out were the culture and sense of identity.

     

    Natural wine is easier to approach regarding the taste and skills, Jean told Vino Joy. The fruitier taste is easy to accept for beginner drinkers.  ‘Their tastes are more fun, just like craft beers or cocktails.’ as he described.

     

    The drinking experience is also more casual and less intimidating.  “Consumer will not be considered as an ignorant person who has to study to appreciate the wine. Too often traditional wine sellers mention this whenever the consumer does not appreciate a wine.” Jean said.

     

    Over the years, he was amazed by the curiosity and open mind of Chinese youngsters who he thinks can help this trend to grow. “Traditional wine drinkers may have expectations about what a wine should taste like, even before opening the bottles, but natural wine drinkers like to discover new tastes, and want to get a surprise at every single bottle they open.”

     

    Unlike drinkers only believing in traditional wines or “baijiu”, as well as people who drink for recognition, natural wine allows young people to differentiate themselves by offering a more lively experience and stories behind. Compared with a pricey high-class wine, natural wine seemingly has more characters that can attract the youth, as Jean described it, “The soul of the winemakers enters in communication with yours, and your soul communicates with your body… This is not special to China, but it explains why the market can embrace the trend quickly.”

     

    A Temporary Fad Or A Turning Point?

     

    Easy come, easy go. Can natural wine hold its position in the China wine market? Giovanni’s view echoed Jean, as he saw the traditional world of wine is conservative and moved by conventional players, but China’s wine market is young and dynamic. He believed the strong interest from the young generations who are the future drinkers will influence the general wine consumption in China.

     

    Drawing upon the silver lining of the trend, Giovanni believes importers and distributors can take a step forward in introducing it to areas other than major cities, ‘The business is very concentrated in few areas, but the potential consumers are everywhere. In this sense we need to get out of our comfort zone and talk to different people from different areas, with different habits and ways of drinking.’

     

    He believes the natural wine market can last forever, but only if people from the industry will select good products made by honest producers in a fair and sustainable way. “In my opinion it all depends on the quality of the wines people find in the market. Natural wines are often inaccurately made and imprecisely selected.” He suggested influential professionals, critics and wine educators, the main e-commerce platforms as well as the Ziran group themselves, need to try protecting the original idea of natural wine.

     

    Likewise, Jean believes the natural wine market in China will have a bright future with the emergence of more mature drinkers over time.  “After the first wave has landed, the growth will slow down and give place to a more knowledgeable market, the fans will continue drinking true natural wines, and the markets will become more structured, giving birth to new segments.”

     

    Kinsley is planning to start a bistro featuring natural wine in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province in eastern China this September, as he is optimistic about natural wine’s future. From the market perspective, he thinks natural wine has not reached its peak, and he would like to see more natural wine vineyards or brands with good quality products in China.

     

    Whether it is natural or traditional wine, I don’t think they will disappear from the market. At the end of the day, Vineyards and products that are not satisfactory will be eliminated. They are probably the real “temporary fad”.’

     

    Commenting on the new partnership with ASC, the owner of Chateau de la Font de Loup Anne-Charlotte Melia said: “Laurent and I are absolutely thrilled that we will have ASC as our exclusive distribution partner in Mainland China and Hongkong. Together with ASC we will bring to Chinese wine lovers the wines of our unique terroir where wild Mistral winds howl and elegance reigns supreme.”


    编辑:Frida Xu
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