By Jim Boyce | Few things have influenced my China wine outlook more than a workshop held ten years ago this week in Beijing. At the time, Grape Wall was two months old, I was working at a chamber of commerce, and I had taken a rare day off to join the “International Workshop on Wine Market in China” at China Agricultural University.
I had no idea what to expect nor did I realize how far from downtown I would need to travel—the university is on the way to the Summer Palace far on the outskirts of Beijing!—but many of the people there would influence Grape Wall. Most important was the organizer, professor Ma Huiqin: she has been a champion of this site, including as the chair of our annual Grape Wall Challenge in which consumers become wine judges. Her topic during the workshop was a study about the buying habits of Beijing wine consumers.
Consultant and writer Frankie Zhou spoke on the Chinese palate while winemaker Li Demei, who many know from Sino-French, Helan Qing Xue, Leirenshou and Tiansai, chaired a panel: both were involved in the early years of Grape Wall.
The topic for Judy Chan of Grace Vineyard, which held its 20th anniversary party this week in Shanxi, was, not unsurprisingly, experiences running a boutique winery in China. Chan has supported Grape Wall tastings over the years with wine samples and is someone with whom I am still in regular contact.
And it wasn’t just people based in China, either. Larry Lockshin of University of South Australia spoke of his country’s win sector: I ran into him in Beijing just a few months ago.
And Liz Thach of Sonoma State University talked about the U.S. market. She now regularly visits China and ended up being a judge in the 2012 Ningxia Wine Challenge that I helped co-organize and that was chaired by—full circle—Ma Huiqin. Thach also helped pick the candidates for the inaugural Ningxia Winemakers Challenge.
Along with the presentations, we tried some local wines, including some delicious fruit ones from northeast China. Good times!
It’s hard to believe ten years has passed since that workshop or how much the Chinese wine sector has changed. The market has rapidly grown, imports have taken an increasingly big share of it, consumers are becoming empowered, particularly through their smart phones, and the Ningxia region has gone from unknown to rising power.
The trade has grown alongside it. The community was so compact in 2007 that the former Friday night tastings at Sequoia Cafe in Beijing would bring together everyone from complete wine novices to the heavily educated. The size of that trade, and the number of certified professionals, has grown exponentially, although that has been paired with far more cliques and far bigger egos.
In any case, I wrote posts about several of the workshop presentations, including China Wine 101 (Qi Wang), Shop Til You Pop (Ma Huiqin) and Taste, with Chinese Characteristics (Frankie Zhao). Check them out for a snapshot of a China wine scene that was.