Torres, COFCO to sign distribution partnership

So, I went to a Torres wine tasting in Beijing tonight and overheard people in the know say the company will sign a deal this week with COFCO, the massive state-owned enterprise involved in everything from real estate and financial services to cooking oil and grape wine. This isn’t a slight on COFCO, which is best-known for its Great Wall wine brand, but it kind of felt like hearing Princess Leia and Darth Vader had decided to open a juice shop together.

Anyway, this is what I hear will happen. COFCO will get exclusive distribution rights in China to Torres’ Coronas and Gran Coronas brands. It will also take over several brands from Baron Philippe de Rothschild (BPR), which has been a stakeholder in Torres China since 2007.

That will allow COFCO to leverage the status of Torres and BPR along its vast distribution network, particularly beyond second-tier cities, where a great deal of growth is forecast. It makes sense, since COFCO can reach where Torres cannot, and it gives Torres more resources to focus on its premium brands and distribution niches, including the expansion of its Everwines retail outlets.

I have found Torres to be the most reliable distributor, both as a source of wine or of info, during my decade of drinking wine in China. I guess that’s what happens when a company has a nice portfolio, decent prices, fun events, low staff turnover and friendly management.

COFCO is somewhat indecipherable given its massive size, although I did enjoy my lone visit to its Chateau Sungod operation in Hebei (see the photo essay here) and was pleasantly surprised by the Cinsault rose I tried at its Chateau Yunmo operation in Ningxia, so maybe the Darth Vader is a bit too far. I take it back!

Anyway, this deal would be one more tale in Torres’ interesting history in China, which includes an experimental vineyard in Hebei 20 years ago, being the first to popularize quality Chinese wines by distributing Grace Vineyard of Shanxi and Silver Heights of Ningixa, owner Miguel Torres’ daughter Mireia coming to China to join help make several wines, sponsoring a Chengdu school after the massive earthquake there in 2009, and lots more.

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