In 2020, when the world went into pandemic lockdown and South African alcohol sales and exports were banned, the equivalent of 400 million bottles of wine had to be left in barrels. This had the potential to devastate the local wine industry, which plays no small part in South Africa’s economy, having contributed 1.1% to GDP in 2019.
The knock-on effect was equally serious. The industry provided close to 300 000 jobs, accounting for slightly less than 2% of employment and providing $1.28bn in household income.
Around the same time, the Chinese government increased its tariff on Australian wines to more than 200%, leading to a 90% year-on-year drop in Australian wine imports. China has a population of 50 million wine drinkers who quaffed approximately 1.24 billion litres of wine in 2020 – a low consumption year – 55% of which was imported.
An opportunity for AM Vineyards
China’s high import tariff doesn’t apply to South Africa, and there was a substantial gap to be filled. Step forward Stellenbosch’s AM Vineyards. Not only does the company produce fine wines predominantly for export, but its owners also happen to be two of South Africa’s most experienced exporters.
Co-owner and manager Matthew Karan immediately spotted the opportunity to export wine to China. With more than 20-years’ experience in his family’s business, which exports its products to the Middle East and more recently China (which doubled export volumes), Karan knows all about navigating access networks, transport logistics, regulations and legal requirements, and the all-important cultural variances that exist between different markets.
AM Vineyards co-owner Matthew Karan.
Andrew Robinson, AM Vineyards’ co-owner, was entirely on board. He has been actively involved in the production and global distribution of wine and spirits for more than a decade. He is driven by accelerating the global growth of South African products.
Mindful of the nature of Chinese culture, AM Vineyards was never going to simply re-allocate existing product to a new market. Instead, they developed the Karan range and took their time to create two new red wines, The Collection and The Selection, specifically to meet the needs of the Chinese palate.
“Despite being a relatively new wine-drinking nation, Chinese customers know what they like and want,” says Karan.
“For instance, we know they have a strong preference for eating red meats, particularly fine beef, so we created our Chinese export wines specifically to pair with the high-quality beef we know they like to eat.”
The two wines now being exported to China are bold Bordeaux-style reds with medium- to full-bodied, fruity flavours complemented by earthy undertones on the nose. Given the cultural symbolism associated with the colour red in China, where it represents happiness, success and good fortune, it’s no surprise that 80% of the wine consumed in the country is red.
The wines exported to China are bold Bordeaux-style reds.
Stellenbosch’s AM Vineyards produces fine wines predominantly for export.
The Karan range is distributed through Karan’s existing export channels that are already focused largely on high-end restaurants and hotels. In 2020, South Africa was the world’s eighth-biggest wine-producing country, accounting for 4% of wine drunk globally. China is South Africa’s 4th top destination for wine exports and accounts for 4% of our total wine exports.
Interest in South African wines is on the rise in China. Despite 2020 being a relatively low-consumption year – down 15% on 2019, South African exports are back on a growth trajectory in value and volume. Other East Asia markets such as Hong Kong are also growing.
With the harvest currently underway, AM Vineyards will produce more blends in the Karan range to further capitalise on the growing Chinese market.
AM Vineyards co-owners Matthew Karan and Andrew Robinson.
Published on Wineland