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Riverland wine preparing to join the China party

Wednesday 16 January 2019

Chinese families could soon be toasting local celebrations with a glass of Riverland wine thanks to a wine-obsessed Adelaide scientist’s approach to product development.


University of Adelaide Associate Professor Sue Bastian and her team spent more than a year exploring the wine preferences of Chinese consumers in a bid to develop a drop that would hit the high notes in a new niche market.

The project involved an intensive 14-month collaboration between the University of Adelaide, Riverland Wine, The Australian Wine Research Institute and Shanghai Jiao Tong University and its Subei Research Institute.

The South Australian River Murray Sustainability Program’s (SARMS) Industry-led Research Sub-Program also contributed $280,000 in funding for the project.

Associate Professor Bastian led a crack team of wine, sensory and consumer scientists, winery engineers, Australian and Chinese industry experts and local graphic designers who examined consumer extrinsic and intrinsic wine preferences, wine and packaging concept designs, market evaluation of concepts as well as reviewed the capacity of the Riverland wine region to make and determine production costs of the new wine products.

“The wine industry, both globally and within Australia, has been traditionally very producer-driven,” Associate Professor Bastian said.

“Winemakers have said ‘here’s a product we’ve made – do you like it?’ It’s hit and miss, especially for small to medium-size wine producers.

“Our approach was different – it was consumer-centric market research by an entire wine region to learn what types of wine Chinese people like to drink, and all of the cultural symbolism and consumption-occasion practices and needs associated with celebrations in China.

“We found it wasn’t just about smell and taste but culture-specific symbolism. Red is a lucky colour for example. Certain numbers and animal images are more appropriate than others.”

The results and the knowledge gained about distribution channels in China, will eventually help wine producers in the Riverland to potentially licence a product and the package and establish distribution channels in China for a tailor-made wine.

Naturally, her research also called for intricate taste testing of wines with Chinese people both in Australia and China.

“I didn’t have to look far for a captivated target audience here,” she said, referring to her position as an Associate Professor in oenology and sensory science at the University of Adelaide where more than 40 per cent of wine and viticulture students hail from the target market.

“For final target market tests in China, we drew upon our strong collaborative ties with Shanghai Jiao Tong University”.

So why the Riverland?

“It’s a region that’s constantly evolving, climatically and politically, and it picks up its tools when it has to make changes,” Associate Professor Bastian said.

“I feel it’s a region not always given the kudos it deserves but I must say, I’ve worked as a wine judge in Australia and internationally and the Riverland makes some brilliant wines.

“We need to keep providing the Riverland with the support it deserves in order to sustain this significant Australian wine Geographical Indication.

“I really admire the wineries in the Riverland for their willingness to innovate and adapt – they do a fantastic job.”

SARMS is funded by the Australian Government and is being delivered by Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA) over six years to mid-2019.

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