Interview: Don St. Pierre Jr, ASC Fine Wines

ASC Fine Wines‘ Don St. Pierre Jr joins Robert Parker, Richard Sands, Miguel Torres and other global wine players in Decanter magazine’s “2007 Power List.” St. Pierre, who established ASC with his father Don Sr 11 years ago, ranks number 37 on the list of those deemed to have the greatest impact on what people are and will be drinking. He’s the only China-based person, and only one of three in Asia, to make the top 50 (the magazine somehow overlooked yours truly). I interviewed him by email over the weekend…

How does it feel to make that list?

It is a great honor for our company as a whole as well as an indication of how important the world thinks the market for wine in China will one day become.

ASC’s business is in China and you’re the only China-based person to make the list, yet your company doesn’t distribute any Chinese wines? What’s up with that and what’s your take on Chinese grape wines?

The list is about the companies and people that influence what wines are available and consumers’ perceptions of wine – this covers importers, distributors, wineries, winemakers, government, and wine writers. ASC is a wine importer and distributor, so I assume Decanter feels that since we are the largest importer in a market that will one day become a significant consumer of imported wine, what we do now and in the future will influence what consumers drink.

Chinese grape wine quality needs to improve, but there are signs that it is happening. And it will happen more and more, because consumers will demand better and better quality wine, and the companies that can produce that wine will find they have more and more customers.

It seems as though there is an increasing amount of Australian wine in China. Which country’s wine producers are coming on strong, which are stagnating and which are losing out?

France is still the overall leader, but as you point out, Australian wine exports to China are growing quickly. It is however important to note that most of the Australian export boom to China is made up of very inexpensive wines. Of all the important wine-making regions, I think America is stagnating or growing the least versus where it should be.

What are the three most important things to realize about marketing to wine consumers in China?

Focus your efforts on sales channels likely to have consumers interested in and able to purchase the wine you are selling – i.e. wine tastings on Nanjing Xi Lu during Chinese New Year with one million people walking by are not a good idea.

Remember that wine consumers in China are just beginning to understand the basics about wine, so keep your message simple and try to ensure it conveys something the consumers can easily identify with – i.e. don’t compare a wine’s taste to saddle leather or black cherries.

Wine and food cross-marketing / promotions can work.

Not counting the people in the top 50 whose products ASC distributes, which three on that list would you most like to sit down with a bottle of wine, and why?

Richard Sands – from 1991, his company went from a little over 100 million in sales to, in 2007, over 5 billion in sales.

Mel Dick – he runs the most successful wine distribution company in the world, bar none.

Dan Jago – largest buyer of wine in the world (Tesco) and his company is moving into China.

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