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Update: Exactly one month after this post, ASC Fine Wines and Grace Vineyard announced a partnership. Turns out the rumors were true. See the details here.
By Jim Boyce | The rumors were true. Grace Vineyard and ASC Fine Wines, arguably the most significant winery and importer / distributor in China during the past 20 years, are now partners. The pair announced the news today as Grace publicly ended more than a dozen years of collaboration with Torres China.
“Both of us have witnessed, experienced and contributed to the development of China’s wine market,” ASC CEO Bruno Baudry is quoted as saying in a company press release. “We are thrilled that from now on we will work together as special partners to bring the best possible Chinese wines to our customers and consumers across the nation.”
“ASC’s expansive market coverage and experience in fine wines aligns perfectly with our family’s long-term market development strategy,” Grace CEO Judy Chan is quoted as saying.
Grace plugs a gap in the ASC portfolio by becoming its first China label. As of January 1, ASC will have exclusive distribution rights in continental China for HORECA—hotel, restaurant and cafe—channels.
An intriguing x factor is that ASC is owned by Suntory, a company with extensive whisky expertise, and Chan is determined to establish a distillery in Fujian province.
Torres will continue as distributor of Ningxia winery Silver Heights, which has a narrower portfolio but one that is highly acclaimed. Torres is releasing a new label for Silver Heights this week.
Shanxi-based Grace Vineyard was founded by Hong Kong businessman C.K. Chan in 1997, with his daughter Judy Chan taking over in 2002. French winemaker Gerard Colin handled the first vintages, starting in 2001, and Grace gained momentum due to a focus on good-value wines during an era when status-conscious consumers were buying based on brand names and high prices. After Colin’s departure, Australian Ken Murchison took over and now Malaysian Lee Yean Yean heads wine-making. Grace has sourced grapes from 55 hectares of vineyards at its base about an hour’s drive from Shanxi’s capital of Taiyuan and, more recently, several parcels in the nearby region of Ningxia. It also continues to experiment: the past 18 months saw the release of four different sparkling wines as well as new single-variety wines from lesser-used grapes in China, such as Aglianico, Marselan and Syrah.
Torres partnered with Grace in 2004 when managing partner Alberto Fernandez tasted the wine and flew to Shanxi a few days later to work out a deal. Torres boosted Grace’s profile via hotels, restaurants and retail outlets at a time when many people turned their noses up at the idea of good Chinese wine. The two also partnered on making wine as Mireia Torres, daughter of managing director Miguel A. Torres, joined Grace for harvest. For its part, Grace gradually developed its own distribution network over the years, including via branded stores, online shops, a wine club and a restaurant.
ASC was founded in 1996 by Don St. Pierre and his Don St. Pierre Jr and, along with companies such as Montrose, Summergate and Torres, was a pioneer in China’s imported wine business. While ASC has not represented a Chinese winery until now, it has expressed interest in local producers and was a suitor for the Sino-Demonstration Vineyard outside Beijing about eight years ago. Acquired by Suntory in 2010, ASC currently represents wineries from 15 countries, with at least a half-dozen brands each from Australia, France, Italy, Spain and The United States. It imported more wine than any other foreign-owned distributor in China this year and also lists the whisky brands Hakushu, Hibiki and Yamazaki.
A few Grace Vineyard photos from over the years: