Grape press: Chinese find too much ‘la feet’ in port; ‘made in Hong Kong’ wine

Barefoot outside Beijing
Barefoot outside Beijing

By Jim Boyce

What is one major challenge of selling vintage port in China? Ironically, for a country that has a love affair with La Feet (er, Lafite), the problem with port might be too much sole, writes Elin McCoy in this Bloomberg piece:

The best vintage ports are largely made the old-fashioned way, by barefooted people stomping on the grapes in traditional open granite vats called lagares….

[Port producer] Quinta do Noval sells well in Japan, sales director Aymeric de Gironde tells me, but so far, interest in China hasn’t taken off.

One problem may be those feet.

Rupert Symington, whose extended clan has been selling port since the 19th century and owns eight port houses, pours me a taste of 2007 Quinta do Vesuvio and explains.

“A few years ago, at a Shanghai trade tasting, our sales manager showed a video of foot-treading the grapes,” he says. “After seeing it, none of the retailers wanted to taste the wines. We didn’t think about cultural differences and the disgust factor.”

The first thing that popped into my mind: Watching Chinese stomp grapes during a harvest festival at Bolongbao winery just outside Beijing a few years ago. An exception to the rule?

I asked Ma Huiqin, a contributor to this blog and a professor at China Agricultural University. Said Ma: “In China, people find it fun to stomp grapes during the harvest festival, but I doubt these grapes are used to make wine or juice.” She added: “I agree that if you showed that video to consumers, they would not want to drink that port. In fact, some people even want, or expect, the grapes to be washed before they are made into wine and are surprised it is not done.” (Hat tip to maoxian)

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that 8th Estate Winery is making wine in Hong Kong using imported frozen grapes. “The thawing, fermentation, aging and blending of the grapes takes place at the winery housed in a high-rise warehouse, which has just released its first batch of reds, whites and ice wines,” states Reuters.

The winery’s whites range from Sauvignon Blancs to Chardonnays. The reds include Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons.

[Winery director Lysanne] Tusar said all their grapes for 2007 came from Washington state in the United States. For 2008, the grapes were from Italy.

The 8th Estate has so far produced 100,000 bottles, of which 60,000 have been sold. The rest are being aged.

Since the wines are only distributed to local restaurants and hotels, the winery uses no sulfates or preservatives, which Tusar says gives the wine a distinctive flavor.

Good content takes resources. If you find Grape Wall useful, help cover its costs via PayPal, WeChat or credit / debit card. Also check out Grape Wall on Facebook. Twitter and Instagram. And sibling sites World Marselan Day, World Baijiu Day and Beijing Boyce.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply