Grape Wall of China

A China Wine Blog: The Scene in the World's Largest Market

Posted on | January 31, 2014 | No Comments

Welcome to wine blog Grape Wall of China. This site covers winery visits, consumer events, trade personalities, industry trends and much more in the world’s largest consumer market. You can also keep up via Twitter, Weibo or the Grape Wall e-newsletter. This blog takes a good deal of time and money. Please consider supporting it by becoming a subscriber Click here for the details. To contact Grape Wall, email grapewallofchina (at) gmail.com.

Chilean wine in China: Translation of Patricio Tapia’s Descorcados set for May launch

Posted on | April 21, 2014 | No Comments

patricio tapia descorchados chilean wine guide translated to chinese by hans qu

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By Jim Boyce

One of the trends helping to boost consumer power in China is the growing amount of wine information that is being translated. An influential Chile wine guide will soon become part of this when a Chinese-language version Descorchados by critic Patricio Tapia is released in late May. The book is being translated by Hans Qu, who spent three months touring Chile’s wineries last year (see here).

The official launch will be on May 28 in Hong Kong, at the same time as VinExpo, says Qu. This will be followed by events in Chengdu, Nanjing, Shanghai and Beijing.

La Cava loca: Six Chilean wines at rmb20 per glass in Beijing

Posted on | April 21, 2014 | No Comments

la cava de laoma chilean wine sanlitun soho beijing china

By Jim Boyce

I wrote earlier about the eight South African wine-by-the-glass options offered for a mere rmb15 at restaurant and wine bar Pinotage in Sanlitun Soho in Beijing (see here). Now neighbor and Chilean wine specialists La Cava de Laoma has its own most excellent deal, with six options at rmb20 on Fridays and Saturdays. The lineup includes a pair of reds from O. Fournier and a rose and three reds from Calcu. You can also expect huge pours — 175 ml.

The shop is inside the south entrance of the Sanlitun Soho’s multicolored building — address here — and open from 10 AM to 10 PM. Pair a visit to La Cava and Pinotage for a mini wine tour of the Southern Hemisphere.

(I stopped by on Friday night and tried three glasses, with the Calcu Cabernet Franc easily my favorite. Give it a try.)

la cava de laoma chilean wine sanlitun soho beijing china (2)

Wine Word: Ian Ford of Summergate on the state of the China market

Posted on | April 3, 2014 | No Comments

ian ford summergate wine china

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By Jim Boyce

Summergate is marking its fifteenth year as a wine importer and distributor in China. I asked founding partner Ian Ford about changes during that time, the current state of the country’s wine scene and what bottles from the portfolio he’d recommend for an absolute beginner to wine.

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When I moved to Beijing in 2004, the market seemed to largely consist of Summergate, Montrose, ASC and a half-dozen to dozen smaller players. Since then, the floodgates have opened and there are importers / distributors everywhere. What happened and what has it meant for the market?

In 2004 at Summergate we were just celebrating our fifth anniversary and were just coming into our own as an established importer and distributor in China. At that time shipments of bottled wine to China totaled only 786,954 nine-liter cases, compared to roughly 31 million cases today.

In 2006 there were a total of 812 registered importers of bottled wine in China – in 2013 there were well above 4,000! While there have been a few serious new players, the large majority of these new entrants across the country are general trading companies seeking opportunistic profits from a new and emerging market. Wine is by nature very fragmented in terms of brands and labels, and difficult to navigate for new consumers and buyers. This has opened up many opportunities for unscrupulous traders to cheat the market and gouge on prices. Much of this trading is done with private labels and “look-a-like” copy brands.

As the China market grows, and the stakes along with it, it seems like the world’s biggest wine producers will want to handle their own distribution here in China. What’s you take on this?

The major wine producers in the world will want to optimize their route to market in China, and gain as much access to buyers and consumers in China as they can. The smart and patient ones are recognizing that you need a serious and capable partner to build a market across China. There are creative ways to innovate and structure the distribution model with a partner, but in my firm view having a partner is indispensable.

The industry has gone through a period where some sizable producers have opted to “handle” the market themselves, or to go with multiple local wholesalers. Kendall-Jackson, Georges Duboeuf, Antinori, and Catena have all gone down this path, and they are now a shadow of the their former selves in terms of awareness, visibility, and sales in China, and are far away from building a brand and a market.

Also, they face multiple risks to their brand, including price structure manipulation, trademark violations, poor storage and handling, inappropriate or non-compliant brand communications, regulatory violations, erroneous Chinese back labels, and even counterfeits. These and many other risks are difficult if not impossible to manage across the breadth of the Chinese continent without a competent and trustworthy partner.

I keep hearing about fast growth in second-tier and third-tier cities and that cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen are saturated. Fair assessment?

Read more

Hard evidence: The truth of why Chinese mix wine and soft drinks

Posted on | April 1, 2014 | No Comments

wine and coke sprite or soft drinks beijing china

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By Jim Boyce

Foreign wine writers, educators and other members of the vintelligentsia love to roll their eyes and tell tales of Chinese consumers mixing Sprite or Coke with wine — even better if the bottle in question is ’82 Lafite. But why consumers do this — or see ’82 Lafite as the be-all and end-all — has long been a source of debate. Perhaps they are mimicking some movie scene where a savvy character tops up his Cabernet with Coke. Or, in the case of some of the spottier local plonk, trying to mask the taste. Or, as in Spain, simply see it as a good mix for a particularly youthful bottle: see kalimotxo.

Turns out that none of these theories hold wine.

The reason Chinese add soft drinks to still wine is simple: Local wine educators teach them to do so. That this is unknown to the outside world underscores the insularity of the foreign wine community. Truth is, many of these so-called experts have witnessed such blending of wine and soft drinks. Sadly, they have never asked why it is being but have instead filed the experience so they can later theorize about it in a closed circle with their fellow wine “gatekeepers”.

But now, in true Marco Polo-style, one man — from France, no less — has finally revealed the truth in a single photo that someone has claimed “is worth 1.3 billion words“. Here is is:

wine and sprite education trust in china

And if you haven’t guessed yet, this is an April Fool’s joke.

Previous April Fool’s posts:

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Head of the glass: Pinotage offers super South African wine happy hour in Beijing

Posted on | April 1, 2014 | No Comments

rmb15 south africa wine by the glass deal at pinotage restaurand and wine bar beijing china

By Jim Boyce

Those in central Beijing and in need of a glass or two of wine after work would do well to head to Pinotage in Sanlitun Soho, where eight South African options are available at rmb15 from 5 PM to 7 PM, Monday to Friday.

“Wine Time” is one of several specials at the downtown branch of this restaurant and wine bar, with lunch options of two courses at rmb88 or three courses at rmb108, including cappuccino, dark lager or juice. (I’m told the ostrich burger is popular.) Look for the current a la carte weekend brunch to soon turn into a buffet and for home-brew to join the menu.

As for that happy hour wine deal, there are four reds and four whites to enjoy while chilling at the bar or one of the tables:

  • Zidela Sauvignon Blanc
  • Simonsvlei Sauvignon Blanc
  • Simonsvlei Chardonnay
  • Boland Chenin-Sauvignon Blanc
  • Zidela Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Zidela Shiraz
  • Simonsvlei Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Simonsvlei Shiraz

Pinotage also has dozens of other options both from among the wines it imports or stocks from other distributors. And if you’re looking for a post-work snack, try the boerewors, a farmer’s sausage done in a roll “hot dog style”.

jacques bruere brut reserve 2008 south africa at pinotage restaurand and wine bar beijing china.jpg

glenelly shiraz 2009 stellenbosch south africa at pinotage restaurand and wine bar beijing china

Sour grapes? People are (anonymously) saying mean things about Jancis Robinson in China

Posted on | April 1, 2014 | No Comments

By Jim Boyce

Imagine that not one of Spain, Germany, Brazil, Italy, Argentina or Portugal goes on to the second round of the upcoming World Cup. That’s kind of how some trade people felt when bigwigs Helan Qing Xue, Silver HeightsGreat Wall and Changyu, among others, did not make the final cut at the recent Chinese Wine Summit contest judged by Jancis Robinson, Bertrand Boutschy and Ian D’Agata. (See the results here.)

The trio’s seven recommendations out of 53 wines ran afoul of some in the China wine industry. Robinson took the brunt of the criticism, which — according to anonymous sources cited in this Shanghai Daily story — amounted to her no longer having what it takes to be an elite taster:

In her latest tasting of Chinese wines, Robinson’s judgement was questioned by some Chinese wine experts and writers, since many acclaimed labels didn’t make it through to the finals.

“Her tasting judgment is contrary to our general expectation. Many wineries are unconvinced but dare not say so because she is Jancis Robinson,” says one wine insider, asking that his name not be published.

Her tasting, actually, has been questioned in the past.

According to another insider, Robinson and leading Chinese wine experts visited Ningxia not long ago and were served a bottle that everyone else thought was corked except for Robinson, who insisted that it was a very good wine.

“I believe she is a great taster, but she’s not that young. Her nose and palate may have begun to degenerate,” says the insider, asking not to be identified.

Wine tasting is a lifelong pursuit for critics, so doubts can be devastating.

Asked about skeptics, Robinson says with a laugh, “I definitely haven’t got older (as a taster).

“But I find that as I get older, my ability to concentrate becomes much better,” she adds.

To return to the World Cup example, it sounds like a case of blaming the referee.

To be fair, the writer does a good job of explaining Robinson’s background in wine, of citing her books and of presenting her views on China: there isn’t enough diversity (too much Cabernet and Chardonnay), some wines are good but far from great, guaranteeing authenticity is an issue. The article also gives Robinson the last word in terms of the anonymous accusations.

But it’s unfortunate none of the accusers went on the record. And it’s odd that Robinson is singled out despite being but one of three judges. Would not the result implicate all of them? And aren’t there alternative explanations for an outcome that, I admit, also surprised me? Such as the top picks showing well on that particular day. Or having a style that appealed to these particular judges whereas another trio might reach a different conclusion.

As for criticism Robinson missed a corked wine during her visit to Ningxia: I asked several people who spent quite a bit of time with her there, as did I, and none of us recall such an incident. That’s not to say it didn’t happen but only that I haven’t found anyone yet who can confirm such a thing.

Finally, I wonder if some of the reaction is due in part to the hefty entry fee of rmb15000 per wine (details here). That’s a lot of money. Enough, in fact, for a winery rep to fly to England, France and Spain and respectively serve his / her wine to Robinson, Boutschy or D’Agata or, if the person traveled wisely, perhaps visit all three.

Anyway, as the stakes get higher for the wine trade in China, things are getting more competitive and cutthroat — one anonymous source (I might as well play along) describes the wine writing scene as “a hornet’s nest” — and we are likely to see more stories like this.

(Note: Get my free Grape Wall e-newsletter. Subscribe here. Sample here. Follow Grape Wall on Twitter here.)

People are (anonymously) saying mean things about Jancis Robinson in China

China wine portfolios: East Meets West adds Ningxia’s Legacy Park

Posted on | March 31, 2014 | No Comments

legacy park winery ningxia distributed by east meets west chinaBy Jim Boyce

Distributor East Meets West has added a second Chinese brand to its portfolio. This past week, the company announced it will be exclusive distributor for Ningxia winery Legacy Park (留世酒庄). Last year, it added Shandong operation Chateau Nine Peaks to the lineup.

“Founded in 1997, Legacy Peak Estate is located at an altitude of 1246m,” states a press release from EMW. “In 2010, Liu Hai took over the estate from his father with the aim to produce the best wines from the area.”

“All its wines are from 100% estate grown grapes over 16 years old and will be allocated to 5-star hotels, top restaurants & premium wine shops. Legacy Peak Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot 2011 is produced in limited quantities with 2800 bottles,” it adds. “This wine offers elegance and complexity reflecting the best characters of this promising wine region.”

East Meets West says the wine will be priced at rmb480 per bottle.s

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