China wine growers beat France into second place

PARIS (REUTERS) - China overtook France last year as the world's second largest wine grower by area under cultivation as it continued to plant vast fields of mostly imported grape vines to meet growing demand.

The world's second largest economy, which since 2013 consumes more red wine than any other country, has more than doubled the land devoted to vines since the start of the century to 799,000 hectares, the International Vine and Wine organisation OIV said on Monday.

It now accounts for 10.6 per cent of the world's wine area against 10.5 per cent for France and 13.5 per cent for world No.1 grower, Spain.

"China wants to be self-sufficient in all sectors, this one included," OIV Director General Jean-Marie Aurand told reporters.

Vines are imported from all around the world and are mostly red grapes as Chinese virtually drink no white wine, he said.

They include many varieties such as Cabernet-Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Chardonnay and are essentially grown in the Ningxia, Sichuan and Hebei provinces in dry areas where there is little competition with other crops, Aurand said.

Still, China's wine production is still far behind the world's major producers, France, Italy and Spain, which all surpassed 40 million hectolitres last year while China was barely at 11 million, ranking eighth in the world.

But since vines take between four and five years to produce and planting surged about two to three years ago, China's output could jump in just a few years, Aurand said.

At a global level, wine output fell 4 per cent in 2014 to around 279 million hectolitres, OIV said.

France ranked first by production at 46.7 million hectolitres thanks to good weather while Italy and Spain, which had less favourable conditions, fell back from large volumes the previous year.

In terms of consumption, Chinese sales dipped 7 per cent, hit by a government clampdown on extravagant spending, but Aurand noted that this followed rapid growth since 2000.

The United States confirmed its place as the world No.1 wine consumer, a position it won from France in 2013.

The U.S. market grew nearly 2 per cent in volume last year to 30.7 million hectoliters, while it fell close to 3 per cent in France to 27.9 million.

Overall, global consumption was down slightly at 240 million hectolitres last year, down from 242 million recorded the three previous years, OIV said.

This provisional data would likely be revised lower to take account of Russia's embargo on Western food products and the crisis in Ukraine, Aurand said.