Wine word: Don St. Pierre Jr., CEO of China-based distributor ASC

China-based wine importer and distributor ASC opened an ambitious project called The Wine Gallery last week (see write-up here). CEO Don St. Pierre Jr. was up from Shanghai for the event and I asked him three questions.

1. ASC opened The Wine Residence in Shanghai several years ago but it has more of a club feel that the The Wine Gallery. Since Shanghai is usually seen as a more important wine market than Beijing, I asked why ASC put a greater focus on areas such as trade and education in its Beijing operation. He gave me five reasons:

  • “For us, Beijing and Shanghai are similar in size. There is a not a big difference in revenue.”
  • “Beijing is the city where we sell more fine wine than any other city, including more classified growth.”
  • “All cities in China have a strong interest in wine, but Beijing consumers, more than Shanghai consumers, are genuinely interested in learning about wine.”
  • “We already have The Wine Residence in Shanghai.”
  • “Beijing is where ASC started its business [in 1996].”

2. Major players COFCO (maker of Great Wall wine), Changyu and Aussino all have multistory wine operations  nearby. How is ASC different from them?

“Aussino has a very good model, but it is first and foremost a retailer, while we are first and foremost a distributor”. [Some guy cut off the answer at this point. It happens.]

3. Given that Torres China has done well by having the local brands Grace Vineyard from Shanxi and, more recently, Silver Heights from Ningxia, did ASC plan to add a Chinese label to its portfolio?

“We were very close to buying a local Chinese winery [Sino-French Demonstration Vineyard] two years ago and were unsuccessful. I’m interested in finding a high quality local wine but up to now we have not found anything of substance. With our new partner Lafite, we will work with them on the operation in Penglai.” St. Pierre said the wines from the Lafite operation should be available in less than five years, “but it is going to be a small winery, only 22 hectares.”

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