late to the party

March 27th, 2013

There’ve been a few stories I’ve been following recently, but I’ve generally lacked either the time or the energy, or both. This one from Monday is one of them, but I can’t help but think it needs a new headline. “NZ wine: Late to the party” would seem more appropriate to me. Why? Check out the headline and especially the date on this article. Yep, zero tariff, 13 months and 4 days ago. And the very first clause:


From January 1 this year [2012, now last year], China will impose zero tariffs on imported New Zealand wine

Now, it’s entirely possible that I’m being unfair on NZ’s winemakers. After all, that qq article linked above does quote one Tim (the Tim Lightbourne pictured and quoted in the Herald?) of Invivo, the company that seems to be at the centre of Christopher Adams’ Herald article, as saying that where once the US and Europe were their big export markets, China is now their focus. But – well, I was going to upload a photo of what my students told me they thought of when the heard the word “New Zealand” (or, of course, “新西兰”), but it’s too big and I can’t figure out how to scale it down to an appropriate size. Let’s just say, the words that “New Zealand” brings to mind were:

milk, milk powder, grass, sheep, cows, clean air, water, blue sky, mountains, the Inner Mongolia of the South Pacific

Ok, “Inner Mongolia of the South Pacific” was my interpretation of something that was said in Chinese, words to the effect of, “Wow, it’s like we’re describing Inner Mongolia”, but the rest of the words were theirs. Notice which words don’t appear? That’s right,

wine, fruit (especially kiwifruit), tourism, education, films (especially anything by or involving Peter Jackson)

Now, I have ranted about the unavailability and expense of NZ wine in the past, only to be told it’s easily available in Shenzhen, but that was a long time ago and I’m not sure where I posted that rant. I’m also sure that, given the apparent Shanghai focus of NZ’s business community (judging by emails from KEA), that NZ wine is more easily available in Shanghai than in Beijing.

But here’s what I see: I see plenty of dairy companies sourcing their milk powder from New Zealand or wishing to create the impression that’s where they source their product playing up the 100% pure, clean, green, pollution-free NZ angle; I see Air New Zealand placing ads featuring photos of absolutely stunning scenery in local newspapers (bottom left quarter of the page, you may need to squint, but it definitely has the phrases ‘100% Middle Earth’ and ‘100% New Zealand’ in the top left of the ad and a koru and ‘新西兰航空’ (Air New Zealand) in the top right); I see Zespri (who’ve found themselves in their own spot of bother lately – and the only quibble I have with that article is that Fran O’Sullivan doesn’t elaborate on the lessons Zespri and NZ exporters to China gernerally have to learn from Zespri’s experience) getting their kiwifruit prominent displays in the fruit and veg sections of supermarkets,  I see Anchor butter served up with the bread at banquets in the Great Hall of the People (only wangled that 3 times so far… ), I see NZ lamb on the menus of restaurants pitching at an affluent, sophisticated, or at least aspiring market (though information I have recently heard suggests that if that is genuine, it may well be grey market… no time to chase that up so far, but I’ll be looking into it) and I see the imported wine sections of supermarkets either big enough or specialised enough to bother with such things chock full of wine from all the major wine-producing countries, old world and new – France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, the US (California at least), Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia – everybody but New Zealand.

What I very rarely see is New Zealand wine on supermarket shelves, and when I see it it is absurdly expensive – though I must admit I haven’t seen any since the tariff was cut to zero.

What I never see is any attempt to promote New Zealand wine. Alright, fine, that may be because I’m in Beijing and not Shanghai or Shenzhen or wherever. But for crying out loud, free trade agreement, zero tariffs, and a reputation for clean, green, pollution-free produce still miraculously intact despite the missteps of our major producers and an ever-growing market for wine. Why isn’t the NZ wine industry challenging “Chateau Changyu”‘s ads playing up faux-European sophistication with a “Yeah, right, but we’re guaranteed quality and clean“?

To be fair, I am working off pure anecdata here, nothing to pass peer review, and it certainly seems from the evidence I have to hand that Invivo, at least, “gets it” and is working at building up its market here. But “Brand New Zealand” or “New Zealand Inc” wine division? MIA so far as I can tell.


One Response to “late to the party”

  1. bezdomny ex patria » Blog Archive » speak too soon? Says:

    […] I spoke too soon. I was in the Jenny Lou’s up by Chaoyang Park West Gate and, in light of yesterday’s rant about NZ wine in China, thought I’d have a wee look around their wine department. I found a few bottles of NZ wine […]