China wine retail: Veteran Top Cellar to close its Beijing shops?

By Jim Boyce

Acquaintances in the wine sector here tend to grimace at the aroma it gives off these days: strong notes of excess stock, hints of government crackdowns on official spending, a whiff of potential tariffs on European wines. The words “things are tough right now” tend to get thrown around a lot. Thus, it will not be happy news that Top Cellar, one of the most established wine retail chains, looks like it is closing its Beijing stores. I called five of the outlets today. No one answered at two of them. At the other three, I was told wine sales were suspended at the moment.

I first heard about this possibility yesterday from a wine distributor. I talked to several sources close to the company who said, yes, the shops would close but there would be a new focus on wine fridges and perhaps a tighter lineup with more famous wines. I have a few connections trying to put me in touch with top management and hope to know more about the situation soon.

I know a couple of things. One, people are going to go nuts fighting for that Central Park space. Two, if this is the end of Top Cellar as we know it, the venture left good memories, from the early days when Julian Bonnard was GM to its participation in our annual Grape Wall Challenge to an educational and somewhat rowdy tasting of over a dozen Chinese wines last year.

(Hat tip: Grey Poupon)

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