The robust sales of B.C. wine to consumers in the Chinese-speaking world has led to some Chinese-Canadians skipping the proverbial middleman and going directly to the source – by purchasing local vineyards and trying to target specialized markets.
That was the strategy of Tom Yuan, founder and director for Richmond-based Canada Berries Enterprises Ltd. Yuan, who bought the winery’s 10-acre Richmond vineyard four years ago, said he made the purchase specifically because the farm, located on Blundell Road near Westminster Highway, was one of a select few that produce wine from berries rather than from grapes, the conventional source.
Yuan said he thinks berry wines – a rarity in both Chinese and western markets – would give his winery a niche that he can then expand upon as a “blue ocean” market free of competitors.
“Wine culture has not been around in the Asian mainstream consciousness for a long time, unlike the deep-rooted history it has in western culture,” Yuan said. “With berries, the awareness is even lower. So the initial market is guaranteed to be limited. But because it’s a niche market, with no one else doing what we do, it gives us a chance to create a new product category.”
The Chinese market remains a key one for B.C. wineries. According to the B.C. agri-food export overview for 2015, China was the top market for the $9 million local wine export sector. For Canadian wines overall, China remains a strong second-place finisher, with shipments in 2016 valued at $15.7 million – 19.6% of total exports.
Allison Boulton, an independent international business consultant with 15 years of experience in the wine industry, said Chinese interest in local wineries, whether from partial investors or from those looking for full ownership, has been rising for a few years now.
“If you sat down and went down the list, you can find half a dozen wineries owned, partially owned, or are talking to Chinese investors for a partial or full buy,” said Boulton, who recently moved back to Vancouver from China. “It’s a business play; you are controlling your supply chain.”
Boulton added that wineries represent a “sexy” and “prestigious” industry that can be very attractive to Chinese and Chinese-Canadian investors, further adding to the allure of buying and operating a B.C. winery.