by Cristobal Chavez Bravo
SANTIAGO, April 17 (Xinhua) -- China is a "fundamental" partner for Chile, especially as a market for Chilean wines, according to Mario Pablo Silva, president of trade promotion group Wines of Chile.
In 2017, China became the top export destination for Chile's wines, known for their quality and variety, as shown at the recent Santiago Wine Harvest Festival.
The April 13 to 14 event drew the country's top 35 wineries to Chile's capital Santiago, offering wine aficionados a chance to learn more about their favorite vintages.
Both organizers and participating wineries agreed on China's "fundamental" role for the country's wine sector.
In 2018, the South American country exported 55.3 million cases of wine, with some 8.1 million cases worth some 254 million U.S. dollars to China.
The numbers, said Silva, show China's fondness for Chilean wine, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere, a deep purple grape variety from France's Bordeaux region that has flourished in Chile.
Angelica Valenzuela, marketing manager at Wines of Chile, said the free trade agreement between China and Chile, in effect since 2006 and updated in March, helped boost wine exports to the Asian giant by between 30 percent and 50 percent a year.
"In 2017 China became Chile's leading destination market, representing some 16 percent of sales, with extremely high growth potential, given the low per capita consumption rate there in China," said Valenzuela.
Clara Cortes, a representative of Siegel, a family-owned winery specializing in premium wines, noted her company's shipments to China grew 16 percent last year.
Siegel is Chile's third-largest exporter to China, and expects its shipments to the Asian country to grow between 18 percent and 20 percent in 2019.
"They are just beginning to grow and are very interested in everything that has to do with learning. They began with varietals (wines made of one grape variety), but we have clients requesting quality vintages," said Cortes.
Silva said he takes pride in knowing that Chilean wine is the national product with the "the strongest entry into China with the Chile brand on its label."
Besides the wine industry, he is also proud to "see that the Chinese in general have a very good opinion of Chile," Silva told Xinhua, adding "there are very good people-to-people ties."