Asia\'s largest wine fair kicked off in Hong Kong Thursday, attracting nearly 1,000 wine producers from around the world as the southern Chinese city cements its position as a key international wine hub. The Hong Kong International Wine and Spirits Fair has 934 exhibitors from 37 countries -- almost 40 percent more than last year -- including Australia, France, India, Spain, the United States and featured nation Italy. Hong Kong has become a gateway to the booming wine market in mainland China, which is expected to be the world\'s sixth largest wine consumer by 2014, according to leading global wine and spirits promoter Vinexpo. \"This has become a very exciting market for everyone. Everyone is ready to jump in,\" said Stevie Kim, a spokeswoman for Italian wine industry promoter Vinitaly, which brought 200 Italian producers to the fair. \"Italian wineries are ready to use Hong Kong as a bridge to go to China. There\'s a great opportunity for us here,\" she told AFP. Boutique winemakers like Australia\'s Forest Hill and Farmer\'s Leap sit side by side with major producers such as those from the French region of Bordeaux. The Bordeaux wine industry council said the region saw a 92 percent surge in export volumes to China in the 12 months to July, and a 69 percent increase to Hong Kong. Hong Kong overtook New York to become the world\'s biggest wine auction hub last year, thanks in large part to the expansion of personal wealth in China and the abolishment of duties on wine imports in 2008. \"The Chinese people are increasingly adopting a Western lifestyle. More Chinese people will pick up the hobby of drinking wine, and more Chinese buyers are coming here to source for fine wines,\" said Hong Kong Trade Development Council official Benjamin Chau. \"The fair will enhance Hong Kong\'s role as a major wine hub,\" he said. Total sales from wine auctions -- which are held every few weeks and have become a phenomenon in Hong Kong -- reached US$164 million last year, while wine imports grew 73 percent to $895 million, up from $517 million in 2009.