Wine Australia Awards in China: James Halliday to present honors to St. Pierre, Sing, Ford, and Lin today

Award winner Marcus Ford with Australian wine writer James Halliday

By Jim Boyce

Writer James Halliday will announce the winners of the Wine Australia Awards today in Beijing. The winner in each of the four categories — retail; restaurants, bars, and hotels; writing and education; and overall contribution to “the growth of wine and of Australian wine in China” — will receive a ten-day wine study tour in Australia. (Apparently, drinking loads of wine from Down Under doesn’t count as a qualification.) Geoff Raby, Australia’s ambassador to China, hosted an informal dinner last night for Halliday, who will lead a wine master class today, and several of the winners. The awards are being presented on Australia’s national day (for ideas on how to celebrate it in Beijing, see this post).

Overall trophy
Don St. Pierre, Jr, CEO of ASC Fine Wines. St. Pierre was cited for his leadership at ASC and the company’s role in terms of wine education, tastings, and events. For his part, St. Pierre cited the rapid growth of the China market. “If you look at where China was as a wine consumer five years ago, you’d never have believed it would now be Australia’s fourth biggest export market,” he said. To underscore the swift change in China, he cited his father, Don St. Pierre, Sr, who came here in 1986 to work at Beijing Jeep and found only one private car owner in the city. “Now China is the biggest car market in the world,” he said.

Restaurants, bars, and hotels
James Sing, owner and manager of Shanghai-based Kakadu, which focuses on Australian food and drink. Sing said that the rapidly blossoming restaurant scene in Shanghai in 2005 and 2006 meant he and his partners needed to find a niche: they decided on Australia and now provide customers with foods that range from lamb and beef to crocodile and emu as well as a drinks menu that aims to cover the country’s wine regions. “I’m from northern Queensland, so wine is what we do when we run out of beer,” he joked. Sing says Kakadu sources its wines from 18 distributors,  sees significant numbers of expatriate and Chinese customers, and holds tasting events, the most recent of which drew 15o attendees.

Marcus Ford, national director for The Wine Way. Former restaurant manager at M on the Bund from 1999 to 2009, Ford said the scene has had a long struggle toward a focus on customers. “The culture in Shanghai for many years was that ‘we’ll try to sell you what we’re being paid to sell’.” He said that the success of M gave him leverage with wine distributors and that now, as a retailer, he enjoys giving customers the chance to try samples from the 16-unit machine at The Wine Way. While the operation is backed by Summergate, it includes wines from companies such as ASC and Torres, and brands such as De Bortoli, Grosset, and Henschke.

Writing and education
Dennis Lin: Known throughout the China wine scene, he was unable to attend the dinner last night but is slated to be at the official ceremony today.

I’ll have more on James Halliday’s comments on wine in future posts.

See also:

Wine Australia will officially announce the four winners of its Wine Australia Awards today — one each will be given in the categories of wine retail; wine writing and education; restaurants, bars, and hotels; and overall contribution to “the growth of wine and of Australian wine in China.” Australian Ambassador Geoff Raby hosted an informal dinner last night for several of the winners as well as for writer James Halliday, who is in town to present the awards and lead a master wine class. The awards, each of which comes with a 10-day wine study trip, are being presented on Australia’s national day — for some ideas on how to celebrate it in Beijing, see this post.

Grand trophy winner: Don St. Pierre, Jr, CEO of ASC Fine Wines. Ally… said St. Pierre, as head of the biggest importer and distributor, had a taken a leadership stance in terms of education, events, and tastings. He cited the rapid growth of the market. “If you look at where China was as a wine consumer five years ago, you’d never have believed it would be Australia’s fourth biggest export market now,” he said. He cited the example of his father, Don St. Pierre, Sr, who came to China in 1986 to work Beijing Jeep and found only one private car owner. “Now it’s the biggest car market in the world.”

Restaurant award winner: James Sing, owner and manager of Kakadu: Australian Food and Drink, in Shanghai.

“I’m from north Queensland, so wine is what we do when we run out of beer,” he joked. He said he decided with several friends in 2004 to open a restaurant. By the time it came to fruition two years later, the restaurant scene was blossoming, and they decided on a need to branch into something unique,–something Australian–hence the focus on foods that range from lamb and beef to crocodile and emu alongside a menu which is more than 90 percent from home. Sing says Kakadu sources its wines from 18 distributors, aims to cover every region in Australia, sees an equal split between expatriates and Chinese in terms of its customers, and holds tasting events, the most recent of which drew 15o attendees.

Retail award winner: Marcus Ford, national director for The Wine Way.

Wine writing and education: Dennis Lin

Said the culture in the restaurant business “culture in Shanghai for many years was that we’ll try to sell you what’s they’re being paid to sell.” They’ll say a wine is not available in order to switch you to another wine… He said that during the decade he worked as restaurant manager at M on the Bund, from 1989 to 1999, the place was successful enough not to need to bow to pressure from distributors. All said that while The Wine Way was supported by Summergate, it also includes wines from companies such as ASC and Torres, and brands such as De Bortoil, Grosset, and Henscke. The wine machine… 16… chance to try something at RMB20 before plunking down RMB700 or more for a bottle.

No worries: Australia targeting China wine market at every level

China contest: Wine Australia Awards to provide four trips Down Under

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  1. Setting the record straight…

    I am delighted to see the interest the Wine Australia Awards has provoked, and equally surprised to see the rather pointless and unconstructive comments about the Awards.

    There are several assumptions that have been made which I am happy to clarify. Don St Pierre Jr did not win the award, but the company ASC Fine Wines applied and was awarded the Trophy. Don travelled to Beijing to receive this on behalf of the company.

    Don has already confirmed that he will not be the person who will be travelling to Australia, and a deserving staff member will be sent instead.

    The Trophy was awarded upon the basis of the applicants (company or individuals’) excellence in education, communication and promotion of wine displayed, and not the companies ownership. ASC was able to demonstrate that they are a leading distributor of imported wine throughout China. They represent over 1,200 wines from 100 acclaimed wine suppliers including a strong representation of Australian brands (although this was not a requirement). They have offices located across the country and have more than 800 staff employed. They also were the first organisation in mainland China to introduce the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) courses, and have played a lead role in establishing wine education in China.

    The Retail Award was provided to The Wine Way business. The trip to Australia will be taken by an employee of the organisation who will benefit from the experience. The outlet was awarded the retail award as they actively support and sell wines from other importer portfolio’s including Moss Wood, Henschke, De Bortoli and Grossett, and have arguably the strongest representation of premium international wines in retail certainly in Shanghai and possible broader. They run a comprehensive educational program for both staff and customers.

    Denis Lin has been working as a freelance wine writer for the past 7 years in China. He currently writes for over 10 magazines across China, Taiwan and Hong Kong and has 3 wine blogs/sites. He also contributes to wine magazine tasting panels and is a certified WSET indepenent educator, and as the ‘Communicator Award’ is open to both wine media and educators is highly appropriate and deserving recipient of the Award.

    Kakadu restaurant were able to demonstrate an impressive commitment to the promotion of wine education and an unparalleled representation of Australian wines.

    The Awards was open to all of mainland China, however we were disappointed to see that less than 5% of total applicants were from applicants based in southern China, with the majority from Shanghai followed by Beijing.

    Please let me be clear that the award winners were not selected based upon their geographical location, nor upon their relationship with Wine Australia but upon the quality of their business and their application.

    We do our best to ensure all the media across the country receive information about the Awards, but ultimately many of the applications have come through word of mouth, and therefore appreciate a more proactive approach to something we believe is essentially a positive initiative which should be embraced as an outstanding opportunity for recognition of excellence in wine, and an opportunity to visit Australia. Nothing more, nothing less. No consipiracy theory.

    We encourage all readers to either consider applying if they feel they or their company is an appropriate candidate, or to refer details of the Awards to appropriate colleagues.

    Information about the next in-take of the Awards will be available on the Wine Australia website later in 2010. Any additional queries will not be responded to via this forum, however please contact myself direct if you require further discussion at

  2. HI Jules,

    Yes you are right ASC are the biggest they have over 800 staff and offices through out China,
    So next year the winner is Summergate??or Assino?? Why not just send them the tickets??
    Because no one else will even bother trying if thats how the game is played.
    As for the company down south, the three i know dont sell to Government so we are talking different people.
    And as we all know Don and ASC have been huge promoters of American wine for years.
    So is Don who must be close to retirement after just having sold 70% of ASC to the Japanese going to take the 10 day study tour of Australia???

  3. Ian…

    The awards were given to companies and individuals who have shown leadership in promoting Australian wine.

    I know it’s easy to knock the big guys, but honestly… how can ASC not win. They have all the big wineries who have plenty of money to agressively promote their wines. ASC sells wine and holds tastings everywhere throughout China. It will be a few years before any other company gets even close. In the future, keep an eye out for the Wine Republic ( a Beijing based company.)

    Kakadu… Again no one even comes close. They have a massive list that has ONLY Australian and New Zealand wines. They hold several wine events each month. The only way these guys are gonna lose next year is if another Aussie restaurant opens up and does something similar.

    The Wine Way… This one could have gone to a few places but The Wine Way is still deserving. They have a great selection of high end Aussie wines that you can taste before you buy. I personally like Vino Venue in Shanghai.

    Denis Lin… Denis writes ALOT about Australian wine and is a big fan of Aussie wines. His articles can be found in a lot of major publications. I think he is well deserving.

    I just wanted to point out that the award is not based on sales. You mentioned a company in Guangzhou. If its the one I’m thinking of, their huge sales can be directly attributed to government contracts they have obtained (so I’ve been told.) I wouldn’t even put it in my top 5 potential winners for next year.

    I think Wine Australia made some good decisions. My only criticism is that I think they didn’t promote the awards enough. I didn’t hear about them until a few weeks after the competion closed.

  4. @ Ian,

    OK, I guess I should have been clearer. Let me put it this way: regardless of who won, who would you have picked, or nominated, for these four awards?

    For example, if these were Beijing awards, and thinking about retailers, I might nominate, as a parallel to The Wine Way, Palette Vino — it has three venues, John Gai has a very nice lot of Aussie wines (he is also an importer), and the venues — especially the hutong one — and the food are quite good.

    So, who are your picks?

    Cheers, Boyce

  5. Boyce,
    as im not privie to the entrants i cant give you an alternative, however there are companies that have given a great contribution to Australian wine, and have had huge growth in the last couple of years and its all 100% Australian wine.One company in Guangzhou that i know off has grown from a zero base 4 years ago to well over one million bottles a year in 2009. I would think that was a good contribution to Australian Wine. And there are probally others with similar stellar growth numbers.

  6. @ Ian,

    Shanghai is not the only place that sells Australian wine, but — as a resident of Beijing — I can say it’s the leader (we’ll take the crown for single malts, though).

    And ASC might be based in Shanghai, but it exports throughout China.

    Anyway, I’d be interested in who you would pick for the awards?

    Cheers, Boyce

  7. HI Boyce.
    The awards were for outstanding contribution to the growth of the wine catagory and of Australia wine in China.
    Is Shanghai the only place in the country that sells Australian wine????
    I know a few people and companies who entered and never even recieved a phone call. 2 from Guangzhou and there would have been others.

    Looks and smells a lot like an inside job.

  8. Totally agree Ian.
    Someone in Wine Australia should get the sack.
    What a waste of everybodys time entering. If you want to give a trip to your mates just try to make it look a little less like your local shop, and your mates restraunt.


  9. What a JOKE, The Shanghai wine awards.
    An utter con.
    Wine Australia should be ashamed of this total set up.

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