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In search of riches, France to ply China with wine

France will pull out all the stops for the second leg of Xi Jinping's European tour on Tuesday, when the Chinese President heads to Paris for a visit that will culminate in the signing of a rescue deal for French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroen with China's Dongfeng.

China is also expected to place a large order for Airbus jets – although that could be signed in Germany in order to spread the good news across Europe. And much more could be at stake.

Global financial services company PWC forecast that 2014 will see a strong growth in Chinese investments abroad, from both state-owned entreprises and private companies. Europe is well positioned, and wine-makers want a slice of the pie.


Charles Platiau | AFP | Getty Images

(Read more: World's biggest red wine consumer is now...)

China is a huge wine consumer. So big in fact that it dethroned France and Italy as the world's biggest red wine drinker in 2013. While the U.S. remains the world's biggest consumer of all types of wine, China's fondness for red wine rose by 136 percent over the past five years.

More than 80 percent of wines consumed in China are made domestically and the nation is now the fifth largest producer in the world. But imported wines are rapidly gaining market share, according to Vinexpo which organizes industry exhibitions.

Between 2007 and 2013, Vinexpo says, wine imports were multiplied by seven and in 2013, accounted for 18.8 percent of all wine consumed in China, and French wine accounts for 50 percent of all Chinese imports.

A recent thawing in EU-China trade relations should also help grease the wheels.

Earlier this month, China agreed to end its investigation into whether the EU was dumping and subsidizing wine in the Chinese market. The probe was widely seen as a retaliation against anti-dumping measures imposed by the EU against Chinese solar panels last summer.

Under a new agreement, Europe will provide technical assistance to Chinese wine-makers in areas such as experimental vineyards and mechanization techniques, as well as helping them to come up with marketing strategies through study visits in Europe. In exchange, the Chinese industry will assist its EU counterpart by organizing EU wine-tasting and improving knowledge throughout the country to promote the appreciation of wines.

(Read more: Is China causing a global wine shortage?)

"In transaction terms, China is an important player in the Bordeaux region", explains Thierry Charpentier, PWC's director in the transaction department, specialist for Asia, adding that "during the past five years, about 60 French Chateaux have become Chinese, especially in Bordeaux."

"The amounts (spent to acquire Chateaux) were relatively low, around 1 to 3 million euros ($1.4 to $4.1 million), but we're starting to see transactions that are more significant, around 10 to 30 million euros", Charpentier continued.

Michal Meidan, senior analyst for Asia at political risk consultancy firm Eurasia, warned however that French producers still underestimate the impact of China's frugality campaign - the crackdown on extravagant spending by officials and state-owned companies.

"If the French wine-makers manage to de-brand, or brand themselves as more austere", she said, they could compete through the anti-corruption campaign hitting luxury goods in China.

The U.S., she highlighted, is moving much more swiftly in its bilateral trade agreement with China than the EU and French wine-makers are now having to compete "pretty aggressively" with American wine.

So could 2014 be a vintage year for French wine-makers?

"Clearly, there is a positive preconception vis-a-vis France and its luxury and agribusiness goods", Charpentier said.

"The Chinese are very opportunistic", explains Thierry Charpentier, and they tend to invest heavily in technologies and brand. "Germany had its 15 minutes of fame, maybe it's France's turn now."

(Read more: Attack on Chinese students is new worry for France's wine industry)

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