Gaia Gaja: On Chinese wine consumers, Italian imports, auctions & more

By Jim Boyce

Gaia Gaja of Piedmont-based winery Gaja has been to China over a dozen times since her first visit in 2005, including one trip that took her off the beaten path to backpack in Yunnan. She visited China this week and stopped by Beijing for a wine dinner — squeezing a tea tasting and nightclub visit into her itinerary as well — and I had the chance to ask her a few questions today about the wine scene.

On the Chinese wine consumers she has met…

“People in China are very confident about saying what they think about wine. In some other places, people are polite and quiet during the dinner and then, at the end of the meal, make some jaw-dropping comments.

“People here are straightforward. They ask questions and they start making distinctions right away — which wine is lighter, which wine is more balanced. This is the thing I have noticed, that people in China understand lightness, delicacy, elegance.

On why imports of Italian wine in China are so low, falling far behind other sources such as France, Australia and Spain…

“Our position [as a source of wine] is about the same as the United States. We lack support from the government and a good national program for promotion. When I was in Hong Kong, I met the representatives of a company that teaches WSET. They have classes for Spanish and French wines and asked if I would help establish an Italian class. I went back to Italy and contacted a national sommelier association about the project — I never heard back from the group.

On involvement in the Hong Kong fine wine auction scene…

“Last year, for the first time, we supplied wines directly for auction. There were eight lots, with the biggest one being 24 bottles [a vertical collection of Sori San Lorenzo Barbaresco]. We did it with Acker Merrall & Condit for an auction at the end of November.

On the situation in China’s neighbor, India…

“It has been a much more quiet market than China. A big problem is that different states have different taxes and the taxes are very high. Also, there are still not many big distributors. There are many young people in India drinking whisky and beer, so the habit of consumption is there, but wine demand is low and has fallen below everyone’s expectations.

On Chinese consumers when they first try Gaja wines…

“I expected it would be difficult because of the tannins and because Barbaresco and Barolo are so refined, require such focus, that I thought people would have to learn step by step to understand them. But I found people in China understand it very quickly, that they can detect how the perfume changes in the glass, so I see something special about this market, an ability to quickly appreciate delicate tastes and textures.

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1 Comment

  1. About Gaia’s comment on promotion of Italian wines, I believe that they way forward is to engage the institutions that already work in teaching wine in Asia. As an associate member of the Institute of Wine and Spirits, I’ve always complained about the fact that in WSET courses Italian wines are not thought at the level they deserve. It is of course a matter of being influential on those environment and that’s way I praise the fact the Istituto Grandi Marchi (in which Gaja winery takes part) are now promoting the Master of Wine courses in Italy. We have to keep working that way, with patience, determination and better organization.

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