Home stretch | California Wine Institute nears end of 21-city China tour

By Jim Boyce | The California Wine Institute is in the home stretch of a 21-city tour that kicked off in the northeast city of Dalian last July and wraps up in the central city of Xi’an at month’s end. California wine trade groups have long visited China, but those trips have focused on first-tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai, making this tour a fascinating effort.

Chris Beros, China rep for CWI, says the tour has introduced California wine to more than 2,000 people, primarily in second- and third-tier cities, through a blend of master classes and consumer events.

“In the very beginning, I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out, but it’s turned out to be really successful, says Beros. “In fact, the last cluster we did, in Kunming, Guiyang and Nanning, was shockingly successful.”

“We had over 65 people in each class, we had media, so I think word of these classes has gotten out and it has taken on a life of its own,” he adds.

One strategy CWI pursued was to use the same instructors as much as possible to add consistency to the program. Beros says is has worked out.

“We started with Paul Hu and he was very good,” says Beros. After Hu shifted to a new job, CWI hired Fangfang Gong, who is originally from Chengdu but spent over a decade in the U.S. and worked for Mondavi in Napa Valley after finishing the wine program at the Culinary Institute of the Arts.

“I met Fangfang at Mondavi and convinced her to move to China and she’s been with us since October of last year,” he says. “She’s been doing all of the master classes. She has authenticity because she’s into California wine, has worked in the wine industry in the United States, and can present in Chinese.” Gong also handles the weixin and weibo accounts for CWI.

Beros says the tour included consumer events in some cities—for example, the tour’s final leg will have them in Chongqing and Xi’an but not in Taiyuan. He adds that while a few events drew lower attendance than hoped, he said there was generally good participation.

“My philosophy is that as long as people want to come and taste the wine, whether it’s 50 or 200 people, it’s a success,” he says.

With the tour almost finished, Beros is looking ahead to more projects.

“We’re going to continue doing the master classes sort of as they are but focused a lot more on colleges and universities,” he says.

He also wants to establish a certification program.

“It will be a much more rigorous multi-day program for professionals to receive a certification in Californian wine,” he adds. “Both of those initiatives are at the very early stages but are sort of what I have in mind for 2016 and 2017.”

I’ll update as I learn more about these programs.

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