Wine Word: Gelipu head Danny Wu

Danny Wu is head of GELIPU (GLP), a Beijing-based company that distributes Australian wines and is involved in a retail outlet. I asked him about the strategy of focusing on wines from a single country, the consumer trends he sees, and more.

GELIPU is focused on Australian wines. What are the pros and cons of this single-country approach and how do you position yourself vis-a-vis others who carry Australian wines?

Most will be aware that Australia is one of the largest wine producing nations as there are more than 50 geographic wine regions scattered right across this sixth largest country. I also believe Australia has the most diverse viniculture. Not only do we produce some of the world’s finest Shiraz and Chardonnay, but interesting and lesser known grapes such as Viognier, Gewürztraminer, Petit Verdot, Marsanne, Malbec, Sangiovese, Barbera, Nebbiolo, and Grenache. This diversity of grapes and an ability to adapt are truly Australia’s characteristics and major contribution to wine.

Unfortunately, the current state of the Australian wine industry does not always deliver the best. Like its counterparts in other wine markets, Australian’s wine industry is heavily influenced by globalization. As a result, it is often the most marketable wines that dominate the export market. Independent wineries and small family operations, although producing exciting, individual, expressive wines, will often find it extremely difficult to compete in the global market. This is the exact mission for GLP Wines – to help smaller vineyards export their products to China and allow Chinese consumers as well as the expatriate community to access something that Aussie wine drinkers are familiar with back home.

In terms of positioning our company with other wine distributors in the city, offering wines solely from Australia does make us seem like the expert among some people, while there will always be some who only want French or other wines – in these cases, we just pass them on to distributors with whom we are close. For those looking for something other than the usual fare, you come to a specialist, just as occasionally you will want to consult a specialist rather than your GP.

Being a specialist also allows us to have an office in Australia and purchase directly from the winemaker, a luxury we would lack if we had to purchase wine from a range of countries. There are obvious benefits, including advising the vineyard on styles that are in demand in China (and eliminating slower moving styles from our portfolio). And because we take control of the wines from the source, we can have more control over storage and shipping conditions.

One of the major benefits of being involved in all stages of export through to final sale is that it cuts out several layers of unnecessary (other party) commissions before they get to the wine drinker’s glass. We may not be the cheapest in China, but we are definitely one of the best-value distributors.

GELIPU does many in-store tastings. What have you learned about Beijing consumers, both locals and expatriates, from these tastings?

Over the past two years, we have done countless wine tastings for both Chinese and expatriate consumers. Overall, we are witnessing more and more Chinese getting into wines and beginning to understand that there are Australian wines other than Penfolds and Wolf Blass. The expatriate communities, on the other hand, are more sophisticated and experienced with Australian wine, but also often amazed by some of the brands that we bring in. Consumers do understand that taxes and duties are major contributors toward the overall price of imported wines, but getting something relatively competitive can be a difficult task, and this is certainly something we are working on. In terms of prices, Australian wines ranging from 80 RMB to 150 RMB are perhaps the most favoured in the market.

Occasionally we come across those who “only drink French“, a result of the massive amounts of marketing that the French wine industry spends in fostering this idea in China, but we have seen this in other evolving wine markets. Over time, as people drink more, they stop believing the hype and start listening to their taste buds.

The company recently became involved in The Cellar Lounge in the Shunyi suburb of Beijing. Why Shunyi and what can we expect from this space?

We have focused on Shunyi for some time, simply because of the sophistication of the wine drinkers in that small area. Over time, and with the help of our Australian Wine Club of China, we have built up a steady clientele who understand what we are trying to achieve and have faith in our wine range. With customers asking us to cater parties, and the positive feedback we were getting, I guess it was a natural progression to open something more permanent. What we wanted was something different and more accessible than what was already available in Shunyi. We wanted a place that people could come and enjoy a bottle with friends over some simple wine-friendly snacks, imported cheeses, and antipasto, and do it regularly without breaking the bank. We have decided to create a take-away store, but where you can also enjoy a bottle in store for the same retail price. As well as some of our best-selling Australian wines, we have sourced wines from other countries, but deliberately steered away from major distributors in Beijing, in order to offer wine drinkers more diversity. We have a continuing rotation of wine by the glass.

The location is in the courtyard of a popular restaurant, Piazza Cafe, and together we have been working to create Sunday afternoon events. We have a singer/guitarist from the UK, combined with a free wine tasting and a set brunch. Other times, the restaurant will be available if wine drinkers want a more substantial meal with our wines.

GELIPU has also been involved in large events, including last year’s Hilton Wine Experience and a portfolio tasting with WineLink. How did you find those experiences and what other promotions are planned?

Once again, wine being a consumed product in such a competitive market, the most effective way of getting consumers to purchase or accept the products is by having them trying the wines. In the end, it is really the wines that speak for themselves. With Christmas and Chinese New Year just around the corner, we will certainly see more wine tastings and events in the industry and be participating in many industry expos and events in 2009. Weekly wine tastings at different venues around Beijing will not only allow consumers to have a better understanding of the wines, but the entire food and wine combination and its consuming environments.

Winelink, like Gelipu, is an importer of wines from one country [South Africa]. It seemed natural for us to show our portfolios together as our clientele will share a common interest in speciality wines. We have a good relationship, and on occasion, when someone is looking for a South African wine for their wine list, I will refer them to Chris [at Winelink].

How did you get interested in wine?

Coming from a hospitality industry background, I was exposed to wine culture at a very early stage, especially living in Melbourne, where so many great wine regions are located just around the corner, weekend trips with friends and colleagues are a must, and the diversity of Australian wine culture really amazed me.

I can remember my first experience of Australian wine and Chinese food during my trip to Chengdu many years ago. At that time, I had a nice bottle of Wynn’s Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon and I was about to share it with some of my friends in Chengdu. As we all know, Sichuan food is extremely spicy and the combination of wine and food was so perfect, as if they were just made for each other. In the end, it didn’t take long to finish the bottle.

I guess I am in the wine industry because I have a true passion for wine and I still see myself on a journey to discover other great wines.

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