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China's Wine Industry: A Growing Taste For The Grape

Dragon Seal Wine
Source: winechina.com
Dragon Seal Wine

China may be known for a lot of things--its rich culture, its gastronomic delights, its burgeoning economy. But I bet you'd never, ever guess that it's also got a budding, European style wine industry.

I visited the ninth biggest winery today, in the northwest corner of Beijing. Amid the wide roadways, the construction sites and scores of people who simply have no fear of moving vehicles sits the Dragon Seal winery.

Like the dozens of purveyors of luxury and Western goods, Dragon Seal and other winemakers are tapping into the burgeoning middle class and all its disposable income. Wine is not a typical Chinese person's beverage of choice. But for those who like status, a Western lifestyle and the trappings of wealth, wine is top shelf.

There are a handful of mega winemakers. Great Wall for instance, is an olympic sponsor and is the biggest producer. Changyu is another producer and even has a French chateau (chateaux, apparently, are all the rage in China. Dragon Seal's is due to be completed next year, just 60 km outside Beijing).

Interestingly, even wine here can't escape counterfeiters. Great Will and Grate Wall are among the knockoffs that sell on store shelves. And caveat drinker: just because it's called "Chinese wine" doesn't mean the grapes were grown in China. Apparently, Chilean grapes are often blended into Chinese grapes, and the label: Chinese wine.

Wine is still a small market in China. But like so many other things here, its potential is enormous.

Questions? Comments? PowerandMoney@cnbc.com