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By Jim Boyce
Despite all the talk about the growth of wine sales in China, and particularly in a city such as Beijing, wine bars that endure more than a few years are a rarity. I talked to Olivier Six, who runs La Baie des Anges in the Houhai area, about how the place got started, the strategy for attracting customers, how he became interested in wine, and more. (All photos courtesy of La Baie des Anges.)
What inspired you to open La Baie des Anges and why locate it on a somewhat secluded side street near the Houhai bar area?
I’ve always been a wine lover, since very young, when my father made me try my very first drop of wine! Over time, I began to drink it regularly and made my own cellar. As our Chinese partner, who used to live in France, is like a real uncle, we used to visit him in China quite often. When we were tired of our jobs in France, we decided to begin a wine bar in China.
Concerning the location, it is a bit hidden, but we thought that fit into our concept. In France, when the place you want to go to has a little something, being hidden brings more to its particularity.
So, it i’s true that during the cold Beijing winter the location is a bit of a negative point, but as soon as the weather gets warmer, it brings some enjoyment to walk on that typical hutong road and arrive in our cozy wine bar.
La Baie des Anges has been open for nearly two and a half years, quite long for a wine bar in Beijing. What has allowed you to survive?
W’re not trying to compete to be the best bar in Beijing! We just want to provide to our customers with good wine in a place that is enjoyable.
We have also done lots of events over the last two years. I think it’s important for people to regularly hear about what a place is doing.
What kinds of customers do you attract at the bar?
Most of our customers live in Beijing, and most are expatriates, though we also get quite a few locals. We attract a lot of Americans, Brits, and Australians. We also have French, Singaporeans, Japanese and Koreans. I think it is really cool that we have people from many places.
Which wines do you carry and which ones do you find that Chinese consumers enjoy the most?
In La Baie des Anges, we only provide French wine, although I really appreciate wines from other countries. I really like our Cotes du Rhone Domaine Gigognan 2004, which is a typical wine from the Rhone, with spice, a full body, and rich but smooth tannins. I also like our Vale Merlot VDP 2006, which a little more full-bodied and not so typical for a Merlot from Languedoc.
Chinese customers generally order Bordeaux wine, mainly because of its reputation. But if they ask me for a recommendation, I will ask about the taste they are looking for before speaking of a region. How can we expect people to know about Loire Valley wines, when even French people don’t always know much about them!?
You have done many events over the years. What are some of your favorites and some of the most successful?
The most successful events are our live jazz nights, with one on the last Saturday of the month and another during the month, and our St. Tropez “white” party that we do twice a year, at the beginning and at the end of summer. Our cheese and wine tastings are also popular. Most of the time we do something special, like match a particular kind of wine with a certain cheese.
How did you become interested in wine? What are your favorite wines?
As I said before, I began young, with family dinners being a good reason to taste a drop of wine in my father’s glass. I really understood that I liked wine when I turned 18. I began to read books and took classes about wine. Most importantly, I went to the vineyards of my friends in Provence, where I saw the harvest and some of the wine making process. But for me, the important thing is to appreciate wine, to drink it with friends and family.
My favorite region is Burgundy, although wines from there are hard to in Beijing and usually too expensive. I also like wine from Cote Rotie, from the Rhone Valley, which cannot be drunk too young. And I like red wines from Provence – they are not well-known yet, but I’m sure they will be, because the quality has really improved.
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