Pernod Ricard has officially announced the construction of “first ever iconic malt whisky distillery” in China’s southwestern Emeishan in Sichuan province, the latest venture into the lucrative Chinese market following its wine project in the country.

With a potential investment of RMB 1 billion (US$150 million) for the next decade, the 13-ha distillery site will boast a state-of-the-art malt whisky distillation facility, due to begin production in 2021.

The project is said to be country’s first distillery created by an international spirits and wine group.

The investment is also seen a bold move by the French spirits giant as it banks that more Chinese consumers will be switching from the fiery Baijiu to malt whisky. Its arch rival Diageo however bet heavily on the Chinese spirit Baijiu, with a majority stake in Sichuan-based Shuijingfang.

Incidentally, China’s leading winery Grace Vineyard also announced its whisky venture with the purchase of a distillery in coastal Fujian province in early August.

China’s whisky imports pale in comparison with wine or brandy, but growth in the first six months of the year is encouraging despite slowing economy.

The country imported 10.5 million litres of whisky in the first half of the year worth about US$96 million, representing a rise of 12.48% in volume and 15.31% in value over the same period last year, according to figures released by China Association for Imports and Export of Wine & Spirits.

Situated at Emeishan, one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in China, the Emeishan Malt Whisky Distillery will be first in the world to appoint a Chinese master distiller, fusing authentic whisky-making craftsmanship and local knowledge to create an iconic malt whisky, according to the French alcoholic beverage giant.

The Distillery will also house a visitor centre, scheduled to open in 2021. The center is expected to attract more than 2 million tourists over the first decade of its opening.

Philippe Guettat, Chairman and CEO of Pernod Ricard Asia, says, “The ground-breaking of the distillery signifies the beginning of a journey of innovation, expertise and dedication to craft a new, iconic malt whisky that embraces whisky history and heritage with a character unique to Chinese culture.”

“It is both the symbol of our strong history with China after three decades of operation and the sign of our deep confidence into the future of international style spirits in this fascinating market,” he continued.

This is the latest venture by Pernod Ricard into China. The Paris-based alcoholic beverage leader also has a winery in northwestern Ningxia, making Bordeaux blend reds as well as white wines.

For the distillery, Pernod Ricard has appointed Neri&Hu, China-based award-winning architects, to design the distillery with a goal to make the distillery a new cultural icon that celebrates the local culture and the brand’s spirit of innovation – allowing people to discover the beauty of Emeishan through a new lens.

“We’re proud to be part of China’s fabric and contributing to the sustainable growth of its economy and society, by transferring whisky-making expertise to the people, credibility to the region and the spirit of conviviality to visitors and consumers alike,” adds Guettat.

In line with Pernod Ricard’s global principles of its Sustainability & Responsibility roadmap 2030, the company said its distillery demonstrates deep respect for the heritage of the region and the land.