By Jim Boyce | It is much easier for writers, educators and consultants to discuss how to get more consumers to enjoy wine than to turn those ideas into results, which is what makes the efforts of Tersina Shieh–a Hong Kong-based winemaker, event planner and marketer–stand out.
I don’t know Shieh well. Our only serious contact was last year summer when she ranked candidates for Ningxia Winemakers Challenge, an event I help organize. But when it comes to the China wine scene, an area where a growing number of people position themselves as experts, she has walked the talk by participating in harvests at Treaty Port in Shandong and Silver Heights in Ningxia. And years of her emails and social media posts show her to be a steady advocate of practical measures to get consumers enjoying wine.
This was evident in her recent email about the “evolution of the wine market”. Shieh said the Hong Kong market might be slumping a bit, due to rising rent and falling tourist visits, but was nevertheless going in “the right direction towards a healthier and more sustainable one.”
“There are more curious young consumers who are not looking for brands but wine they enjoy,” she wrote. “However, somehow the industry largely ignores them.”
She cited a tasting event where she paired two very different wines with each dish. For example, New Zealand Pinot Noir and Australian Chardonnay were served with chicken tikka masala. She used the same strategy with the fish and chips and the chocolate pudding.
“[The] preference of each food / wine pairing was pretty much evenly split, demonstrating once again that [it] is indeed subjective,” she wrote. “The nice thing about this tasting was that none of the guests felt intimidated and were happy to share their opinions. The evening was fun, engaging and all about sharing.”
Shieh then made a bigger point.
“The key to expanding the wine market, it seems, is how to communicate with these consumers,” she wrote. “I don’t think conventional wine tasting events or formal wine education courses are the right way to hook consumers to wine. We need to provide a fun, sociable and non-intimidating environment, speaking to them at their comfort level of knowledge.”
I’m sure many in the trade would agree. That’s the thing: the issue is not a lack of ideas about how to communicate with consumers but finding people to execute them–the ideas, not the consumers! Shieh is among those who do so and deserves to be tagged with that overused wine world word ‘passion‘. It takes a lot of it to hang out with consumers and pair chocolate pudding with New World wines when one could instead be drinking the good stuff with trade industry types and philosophizing about how to reach those pesky masses.
Again, Shieh walks the talk and not just in terms of the pairing event above. Other projects cited in her email:
- Last year, she began to write for OpenRice, an online dining guide driven by crowd-sourced reviews,. “Some might dismiss it because the majority of readers are likely to be wine amateurs,” she said. “However, this is exactly the group of consumers that we need to engage and encourage to enjoy wine in social settings.
- This year, she will write a column called “Wine 101” for Foodie, “a community of food aficionados”. Again, readers might only know a bit about wine “but they certainly know how to enjoy life and share with friends.” Shieh adds: “We always see the same faces at wine events and I hope OpenRice and Foodie will open the world of wine to a wider audience.”
- And a continuing goal is to convince a “casual“ restaurant chain, such as for fast food, “to serve wine with their set dinners in order to make wine more accessible to average consumers.”
Shieh already has a busy schedule working with Wines of South Africa, Wines of Germany and The Vintage Port Academy, as well as with pairing wine and music, which makes efforts to connect with regular consumers even more laudable.
Will she succeed? She reminds me a bit of someone committed to helping the ‘99 per cent‘ and facing an uphill battle against an ingrained hierarchy. As she notes, the trade “largely ignores” young consumers and wine events draw the “same faces”. That’s not surprising given that, in my experience, ‘key opinion leaders” like writers, educators and consultants–what I call the vintelligentsia–are often insular even as they proclaim they want to connect with more consumers. That wine scene is a competitive one and there are only so many paying positions to be had, so many seats at that vertical tasting of Haut Brion, and people are want to protect their territory.
Shieh is among those going beyond that and engaging consumers. Here’s hoping not only that she’s right about the market, and we see more people seeking wines simply for enjoyment, but that she is part of a movement that is growing and will help them.
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