Wine word – Sixty minutes, twenty wine producers, one topic (China)

By Jim Boyce

asc global wine extravaganza question and answer period beijing
Winery reps gather in 1949’s Bollinger bar (photo: ASC)

Representatives from some 20 wine producers participated in a Q&A session just ahead of Tuesday’s Global Wine Extravaganza organized by ASC at 1949: The Hidden City. The number of people involved meant brief answers, thus I have included several to my question (listed first) as well as to those of others. I have paraphrased where appropriate.

Many producers in China are making wine that has been described as “cheap Bordeaux” and many consumers, due to marketing and other factors, tend to be fixated on drinking Bordeaux or Bordeaux-style wines. In the face of this, many Chinese, especially those new to wine, do not like these kinds of dry tannic reds. What do you think of this situation?

Nicholas Heath, marketing director, Taylor’s: “I have noticed in the past few days that there is an interest in sweeter wines [in China], and not necessarily limited to female consumers.”

Alberto Chiarlo, owner, Michelle Chiarlo: “If Bordeaux is difficult [for consumers], then Barolo is impossible [given its complexity and tannins],” he joked. Chiarlo said his winery produces Muscat, thus providing an option to those who are new to wine, while Bordeaux offers sweeter wine in the form of Sauternes.

Thibault Delpech, Asia-Pacific sales manager, Ginestet: Because Bordeaux is famous, this phenomenon is seen in many markets, he said. The problem is that people drink either cheap Bordeaux or very expensive Bordeaux, but few experiment in the mid-range. He noted that consumers at the afternoon’s tasting would get a chance to some mid-range wine.

John Kolasa, chairman, Chateau Rauzan-Segla: Based on his three days in China with consumers, restaurant staff, and others, he said that next time he would bring older Bordeaux wines, since those from the 1950s and 1960s are more elegant and the tannins are not as strong.

One participant also stated: “Perhaps it is a mistake that too many people are coming from Bordeaux with young wines. It’s perfectly right that people don’t get a good impression when those wines are particularly young [and tannic].” [I couldn’t tell from my notes who said this.]

Have you tried Chinese wine?

Of 20 people who answered, 15 said they had tried Chinese wine. Only a few discussed specific wineries, with Dynasty, Changyu, Great Wall, and Grace Vineyard named. One said he tried Changyu and “loved it, but there was a bit of room for improvement,” while another said he saw “huge improvement” in a Dynasty Chardonnay Reserve. Three people said they had first tried Chinese wine about a decade ago and seen significant improvement, with one saying a Riesling tried at that time had been surprisingly good.

“Improvement” seemed to be the key word when it came to Chinese wine, with about ten people uttering it. Other comments:

  • China is a vast country and thus should have the “terroir” to make good wines.
  • China has strong potential to become an exporter of wine.
  • For China’s wine industry to gain credibility, the vintage listed on bottles should reflect that of the grapes inside, and not be picked for other reasons, such as being a lucky number.

Finally, Taylor’s Heath, while noting the improvement of local wines, said he “hoped as wine culture evolves that China doesn’t forget its own tradition, especially its rice wines, including its aged ones.”

What makes your wine appealing to the China market?

Robert Baxter, international export director, Joseph Phelps, noted the importance of wines that express the climate and soil from which they come, thus making them “identifiable.” Amy Camille Seghesio, export director, Seghesio, made a similar point by saying her winery’s varietal – Zinfindel – is unique and can’t be repeated. Stephen Kline, wine educator for Brown Brothers, said the winery seeks to “widen” its offerings, with wines such as muscat, with the company’s export manager, Matthew Turner, adding that these include sweeter wines with low alcohol: “a lot of Chinese ladies we’ve been speaking to [like it].”

Wine education tends to come more from “new world” producers than “old world” ones. What do you think about this?

Delpech of Ginestet noted that his company sent samples of bulk wine to China and then had Chinese in four cities make their own blends last December.

“Old World” wines, especially Bordeaux, can be intimidating and marketing, rather than education, might ease the situation. What kind of marketing efforts are being made?

Wu Dan, Asia-Pacific sales manager, Marques de Riscal: Since she joined the winery in 2005, she has seen consumer knowledge of Spanish wines grow.

Seghesio: “We are a small, family-owned business, so I am the marketing department,” she said, and added that making the decision to come to China is in itself marketing. . She added that it’s not possible to generalize about “new world” and “old world” marketing, since both have big and small companies.

Arnaud Bourgeios, owner of Henri Bourgeios: “Sometimes the risk is that too much marketing means a loss of identify,” he said. “We don’t want to change the wine to match the market, we want to explain why the wine is the way it is.”

Chiarlo: “I wish we were as bad as Bordeaux in marketing and had their pricing,” he joked. As an Italian wine producer, he said he focused on Italian restaurants, as these are accepted worldwide.

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