- POSTED: 23 Dec 2013 11:16
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The recent purchase of South African wine cellars and vineyards by a Chinese wine company has further strengthened ties between both countries.
JOHANNESBURG: If you're a wine drinker, your taste buds have most certainly been tickled by a Pinotage or Chenin Blanc.
Hailing from South Africa's Western Cape, these award winning wines have been grown and fermented in some of the most spectacular vineyards in the world.
And now, China is lifting a glass through a partnership between Chinese company Perfect China and this wine estate - the Val de Vie winery and vineyards.
Hein Koegelenberg, chairman of Perfect Wines of South Africa, said: "I decided to take our distribution to Asia and more specific China because of the financial crises in Europe and the US. We started a joint venture in wine and we formed a company Perfect Wines of South Africa and that wine sells in the network of Perfect China."
It's not easy getting into the Chinese wine industry but Koegelenberg still managed to open the cork.
Perfect Wines now delivers more than three million bottles of wine a year to Beijing. This is about 60 per cent of South Africa's total wine export to China.
"The industry is growing. The wine is growing. The culture is growing," explained Neil Grant, a sommelier.
"Understanding of wine is really a big part of what’s happening in the Chinese market. It’s nothing new but it’s getting bigger and bigger."
It is the first time a Chinese multinational has invested in South Africa's vineyards.
The undisclosed transaction includes a wine cellar, a 25 hectare wine farm, vineyards and historic manor house.
It is a deal that is sending ripples through the wine world and is expected to increase awareness of South African wines in the growing Chinese market.
"I am not saying everybody needs to focus on China but I think it is a big part of any producer to say this is where I am going to focus and stick with it because it is a big country," said Grant.
The search by South African winemakers for new Chinese partners is part of a growing closeness between the two countries.
In the last decade, trade between the two countries has grown tenfold, making China not only South Africa's biggest trading partner but also Africa's largest.
Erwin Pon, the chairperson of the Chinese Association in the Gauteng province in South Africa, said: "South Africa is real gateway for Chinese investors into the rest of Africa. South Africa has fantastic infrastructure as well, allowing trade and investments coming through."
In the last two years, China has set up projects across Africa amounting to over US$100 billion.
Chinese companies are prominent in many key fields - including petroleum, construction, mines and textiles.
But unlike western investors on the continent, many Chinese companies bring in their own workforce.
One of them is Lilly Lie who has come to South Africa to work on a vineyard. She is responsible for translating all English wine labels into Mandarin.
"We say if you can’t drink, you don’t have business in China. I think it is very important to have the right message delivered to different culture, to different people to make a success," quipped Lie.
And as China says cheers to South Africa's wines, it is smiles all round.
This cooperation benefits both sides. It gives South Africa's wine industry a boost while also giving Chinese wine consumers a few more options, leaving a sweet taste in everyone’s mouth.