Vinexpo, Asia's largest wine and spirits exhibition, opened in Hong Kong on Tuesday as sellers from across the world try to tap into the growing thirst for fine vintages in the region.
The third installment of the France-based show features 700 exhibitors from 32 countries, a large increase from its last visit in 2006, which organisers say proves the growing significance of Asia to global sellers.
"All the studies show that the Asian market represents the strongest potential for growth in wine and spirits over the next five years," said Dominique Heriard Dubreuil, president of Vinexpo Asia.
She said that the Asian market was expected to grow by eight per cent annually over the next five years compared with a one per cent average growth in the rest of the world.
"The growth is everywhere. Consumption in the restaurants and bars is increasing. Luxury hotels are flourishing," she added.
Japan remains the biggest importer in the region, bringing in 56.6 per cent of the volume coming into Asia in 2006.
But China is the biggest drinker, consuming 62.7 per cent of the total regional intake, according to Vinexpo statistics. However, a staggering 92.8 per cent of the wine China drinks is produced inside the country.
While major Chinese producers such as Dynasty and Changyu will be exhibiting at Vinexpo, overseas sellers are trying to quench the thirst of China's new elite for expensive grape-based wines.
"Asia is the market of the future," said Robert Beynat, executive director of Vinexpo told AFP.
"China and India are experiencing high growth rates and the continent is, for the moment, providing for the industry a shelter from the global economic slowdown," he said.
Asia is also moving to take advantage of the growth.
Hong Kong's government earlier this year removed duty on wine imports, sparking a flurry of auctions in Hongkong, as it tries to fight off Singapore and Tokyo to become the regional wine hub.
So far, the main beneficiary of the Asian boom is France, the world's second biggest exporter of wine and the main supplier of Asia (39.6 per cent of wines imported in 2006), ahead of the United States, Italy, Australia and Chile.
French exhibitors are taking up just under half the surface area at Vinexpo, but rivals are competing hard for a slice of the market. "We have never had so many countries exhibiting," said Beynat.
China is also expected to provide the main growth area for the global spirits industry, organisers said.
While overall consumption of spirits is actually expected to decline in China by 2011, much of the decrease is due to a move away from traditional rice-based spirits, as Chinese gravitate towards Western drinks, heavily marketing themselves in major cities.
The market for Cognac and other brandies, of which China is the major consumer, is expected to grow by 38.8 per cent in Asia by 2011.