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By Jim Boyce
When Kent Tseng isn’t flying over the flower-strewn fields in Xinjiang as part of a wine tour (above), she is working as deputy GM and executive editor of Wine magazine in Guangzhou. During a recent trip to western China, I asked her a few questions about how she got interested in wine and what she thinks of Chinese labels.
How did you get involved in wine?
I used to work for expat magazines like City Talk when I was a student in Guangzhou. I was doing a column on food and beverage, and getting exposure to chefs and Western-style restaurants, and I had the chance to learn about wine step by step. In 2008, an editor where I previously worked was at a lifestyle magazine and wanted to change the focus. We discussed it and decided on a wine magazine since there were quite a few appearing in China. The best-known was Food and Wine but it was not specifically focused on wine.
How is Wine different from other magazines in China?
It’s focused on lifestyle, from a wine point of view. We have articles on travel, tastings, food and wine pairings. We look at fashion, music and so on. We want to interpret life through wine.
Who are your readers?
The target is 25 to 40 years old. Half are in the industry and half are consumers. We have readers up to 60 years old but most are 25 to 40.
How has the magazine changed over the years?
In the beginning, we were similar to RVF [La Revue du Vin de France]. We wrote about wine styles and wine regions and talked about the big name brands in wine. After that, we tried to more closely reflect the reality of the China market. We changed columnists many times, and tried to make readers understand wine rather than present a lot of technical information. We included articles on books, music, art, all related to wine.
How does Guangzhou’s wine scene differ from elsewhere in China?
China is never one country when it comes to the wine market. Guangzhou is close to Hong Kong so people were exposed to a wine lifestyle earlier than in other cities. Thirty years ago, Hong Kong was keen on Cognac, with a trend of having it with food, and that had a big impact on Guangzhou.
In Shanghai, wine is more about “see and be seen“. That’s why there are so many wine bars. But in southern cities like Guangzhou, people are looking more at cost-effectiveness. People in Guangzhou like food — it’s first — and wine is second.
What are you experiences with Chinese wine?
I started to get to know wine from nine or ten years old. My family would buy Great Wall or Changyu to host dinners or guests. It’s funny, I still remember making a comment when I was 10. After my cousin secretly gave me some wine, I said that I preferred Changyu to Great Wall.
I also remember people trying to make Great Wall tastier by adding a preserved plum, and the mineral and licorice tastes it had, like you find in a very well-developed red wine.
When I grew up, I found imported wines were better than Chinese wines, so I became less exposed to Chinese wines. Also, the reputation of Chinese wines was not good because some people thought they are not tasty or they are fake or they are not even fermented but just include sugar and color and other ingredients.
Later, thanks to Torres, I had a chance to try Grace Vineyard and later Silver Heights. Grace Vineyard, especially the first vintage of Deep Blue, changed my impression of Chinese wines.
I also traveled to Shandong in 2010 as one of my good friends took a job in a Penglai college to teach wine marketing. Because I was invited, I was treated to high-priced wines, including the rmb28000 Chateau Junding. It was tasty, but I have doubts they made it themselves.
I went to local shops [in Shandong] and I tried three wines that cost rmb50 per bottle, but they were all very bad. They label it as a Chardonnay but the nose and taste is artificial.
But I know people are making nice wines in China. The problem is they are not distributed to the mass market. Consumers are only exposed to big brands like Great Wall and Changyu. I talked to some consumers and they told me they drink Great Wall and Changyu because they trust them. It was the first time I felt that brands are so important.
See the website for Wine: It Is a Wine Life here.