VinExpo: From local bubbly to Red Obsession, five events for the China market

vinexpo asia-pacific 2014 logo-001

VinExpo officially starts tomorrow and for those seeking China-specific stuff to do when not getting blitzed at the bubbly stands, here are a few options…

THINK: A forum called “What is the future of the Chinese wine market?” is slated for May 28, with speakers including Judy Chan (Shanxi-based winery Grace Vineyards), Don St Pierre Jr (listed as at distributor ASC but now a senior adviser at parent firm Suntory), Dixon Yuan (online retailer and Simon Tam (auction house Christie’s). If you want my 30-second rundown, the near-term future is:

  • A sustained market shift toward ‘regular’ consumers, driven in part by the government austerity drive, and toward taste rather than status, with perceived health benefits still remaining a key factor.
  • Even more emphasis on the online realm, from buying wine for home delivery to accessing Chinese-language wine info.
  • Strong pressure on China producers to provide more value, not just in terms of a small number of producers as we see now but across the board, as they get squeezed by pickier consumers and cheap imports from Spain, Chile and elsewhere.
  • Continued leadership from France in terms of imports, as secondary markets continue to develop, but also increasing diversity in the styles and origins of wines entering the country as a slice of the consumer market matures. (Note: VinExpo has seminars on selling Bordeaux in China and on general import trends.)
  • The emergence of a large number of well-trained — or at least classically trained — wine professionals as well as the first China-based Masters of Wine and Chinese citizen MWs.
  • A continued effort by the foreign wine trade to dictate the wine scene for consumers in China — I’m not sure whether to call such trade people Cabernet Colonialists or Wine Missionaries — and a slow calcification of a hierarchy of well-known China experts.
  • The rise of… oops, I’m out of time.

More details on the forum here.

TASTE: Let’s hope for the best when Le Revue du Vin de France holds a Chinese wine “master class” at VinExpo given that a 60-plus bottle tasting the magazine organized last fall in Ningxia, with international judges Andrew Jefford, Anthony Rose and Jeremy Oliver and RVF managing editor Olivier Poels in attendance, was done at approximately 8 degrees Celsius. (Note to RVF: If you need to dispense winter jackets at the door, the room is too cold.) Like wines, tasting room temperatures require balance, and I’m sure the Hong Kong organizers will keep the thermostat steady, so this should be a good chance to try Chinese wines with RVF columnist Li Demei. This one is by invitation so find someone who can get you access. Details here.

WATCH: There will be a private showing of documentary Red Obsession, a look at the wine relationship between Bordeaux and China, with director Warwick Ross. The documentary includes China-based wine people like Li Demei, Fongyee Walker and Jim Sun and, while interesting, underscores how quickly this market transforms given that the story — a fascination with top-end Bordeaux and particularly Lafite — seems almost historical given events of the past two years. It also focuses on a specific niche, the uber-rich, which in terms of understanding the general wine market is akin to gauging the auto sector via Lamborghini, Maserati and Ferrari. Nevertheless, it is an interesting look at a specific part of the wine industry, and has its fair share of colorful characters, plus you can throw a few questions at the director. More details here.

VISIT: There will be numerous China-based enterprises as exhibitors, from producers such as Grace, Dynasty and Changyu (try the ice wines and the Changyu-Moser products if available) to publications such as Wine in China, Cru and Fine Wine & Liquor.

BUBBLE: Speaking of exhibitors, Grace Vineyard is using VinExpo to launch its first sparkling wines. Austria’s Andreas Wickhoff told me he was impressed by them when he visited Grace last year and the wine, um, sparkled in a tasting I did with restaurant managers and chefs in Beijing. Both options are Chardonnay: one aged for 36 months and a slightly sweeter one aged 12 months. More details on the wines here. By the way, Grace is also holding a 10-vintage vertical tasting, though you need an invite.

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