Page last updated at 15:54 GMT, Sunday, 13 July 2008 16:54 UK

Vintage future seen for Chinese wine

By Gavin Stamp
Business reporter, BBC News

Man drinking wine at wine expo in Hong Kong
New Chinese wine makers are set to make a splash in the future

China is set to become the world's largest producer of bulk wine in 50 years time as well as a major force in fine wine, experts are forecasting.

Chinese wine currently has a low profile outside of Asia even though, in terms of number of vineyards, it is already the world's fourth-largest player.

But this is all set to change, say wine merchants Berry Brothers & Rudd, as increased investment and technical expertise, allied to favourable soil conditions, transform its reputation for excellence.

This is one of the more startling predictions contained in Berry's analysis of the future of viticulture in the first half of the century.

Its experts believe global warming will cause a "radical shake-up" of the industry.

Eastern promise

Certain countries, most notably Australia, may no longer be able to grow wine in bulk quantities by 2058 because of a lack of water.

In contrast, it sees India and large parts of eastern Europe - as well as China - emerging as new forces in the industry.

"China has the vineyards but not the technical expertise," says Alun Griffiths, Berry's wine director, of its current status.

But he believes it won't be long before it is producing high quality Cabernets and Chardonnays, and will eventually produce fine wine to "rival the best of Bordeaux".

In 50 years, consumers will ask for wine by the brand name or flavour and won't know, or care, where it has come from
Jasper Morris, Berry Brothers & Rudd

The number of Chinese wineries will increase 10-fold from current levels of about 400, while new areas will be discovered with the right climate to produce fine wine.

"If good people from wine producing countries think there is an opportunity to make wine in China, they will go there and invest," Mr Griffiths adds.

The global wine map could look very different in 2058, Berry believes.

Production in Australia may be "marginalised" into wetter, cooler areas such as Tasmania and the likes of Canada, Poland and Slovenia may feature more prominently.

Fans of English wine will be encouraged to hear that Berry predicts a bright future with the amount of land cultivating wine potentially rivalling that of France by 2058.

If English sparkling wine gets more support from drinkers and has sufficient critical mass to bring prices down, it might one day be able to compete with champagne.

Farewell bottles?

Should other Berry predictions come to pass by 2058, the wine bottle will become virtually obsolete - replaced by plastic or reinforced cardboard containers.

Only a tiny fraction of wine will continue to be corked, Berry believes, with screw caps becoming the norm across the industry.

Wine bottles
The cost and environmental impact of using bottles may see them phased out.

Other innovations will see chips being embedded into containers to prevent counterfeiting and the introduction of genetically modified grapes and yeast to improve fermentation and reduce alcohol levels.

However, the most radical change may occur in how wine is labelled and marketed.

Country and grape-specific derivations such as Shiraz or Merlot could disappear in favour of brand-oriented versions as spirits producers and supermarkets become major wine owners in their own right.

"In 50 years, consumers will ask for wine by the brand name or flavour and won't know, or care, where it has come from," says Jasper Morris, responsible for buying Berry's Burgundy wines.

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