By Jim Boyce
Formerly employed in the U.S. wine sector, Pat Fromm has been an active consumer in the Beijing scene. I asked her about her experiences both here and at home.
You worked in the U.S. wine sector before moving to China. What did you do?
When alcoholic beverages moved from state-owned to private sector in West Virginia, I was the first salesperson for the capital city of Charleston. I knew very little about wine so I enrolled in a wine appreciation course at the local college. Imagine, getting credit for tasting three to five wines in an evening! They were the most fun college credits I ever earned.
The successful introduction of wine to a state that was forty-ninth out of fifty in wine consumption depended on advertising and merchandising. I was involved in the merchandising and I let Bartles and Jaymes and their little red truck advertise to TV viewers.
In grocery stores, my responsibility was to convince retailers to cross-merchandise wine with every department in their stores. Fortunately, for my profit margins, we didn’t have those little tasting stands like they do here in China.
What’s your take on the availability and quality of wine and wine events here in Beijing?
It’s great to see so many tastings! It’s a great way to increase consumption and bring drinkers along to more sophisticated tastes.
I don’t clearly understand the wine import business here and often wonder why a particular grocery store can sell bottles of wine for less than the so-called “distributor.” It seems to me that the availability of wine here is more influenced by politics than by good wines. Albeit, I have no trouble finding a drinkable red wine almost anywhere.
The condition the wines are stored in is another story.
As a consumer, what would you like to see in the Beijing wine market?
Is reduced price asking too much? More Oregon and Washington state wines as well as some Pacific coast wineries from California. And more wine bars.
How many Chinese wines have you tried and what is your opinion of them?
I haven’t really kept a journal of Chinese wines and there are currently none in my preferred wine list. I do think they are developing, slowly but surely, as more and more foreign viticulturists and vintners are coming to China to manage growth and production.
What are your observations of local wine drinkers, whether in terms of consumers, acquaintances or friends?
My “friends” are definitely not wine snobs, and I, too, often look for what’s available in the bargain category. As for the acquaintances I party with, most bring along what’s cheapest in the local shop that night. Very few actually give much thought to how it goes with the food. That may change now that I’ve started a gourmet food group!
If someone new to Beijing asked you to recommend three wines that he or she could buy here, what would they be?
Of course I’d have to first ask, What do you like? My general recommendations, based on what I’m drinking now, would be:
• 2003 Hill of Gold Shiraz by Rosemont Estate
• The Reunion Mourvedre Shiraz and Grenache by Rutherglen
• Shiraz 2003 by Brookhampton
And the only interesting white I’ve had had in China – from Moet!
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