Shanghai wine retail | Campbell Thompson of The Wine Republic

By Jim Boyce | I recently talked to a bunch of trade people about the Shanghai retail scene for a story in Meininger’s Wine Business International. We could only use a small portion of their comments so I’m running bonus excerpts here on Grape Wall.

One interviewee was Campbell Thompson, co-owner of The Wine Republic, who has been in the China wine industry for nearly 15 years.

On what distinguishes Shanghai from other cities in China:

We find the Shanghai wine market is different from most other cities in China in a number of important ways. There is a greater number of experienced and well-informed consumers in Shanghai, which means a relatively higher proportion of white wines and high-quality new world wines are sold. My feeling is young professional females who know what they like, and see wine as part of their lifestyle, are a bigger part of the market in Shanghai.

On the shifting landscape for importers and distributors, particularly after the government launched its austerity campaign:

Whilst the number of importers did drop two years ago, today with the strong growth of online sales, plus the addition of some new wine importers, the range of wines available is greater than ever, and the quantity and quality of information available on wine has also grown strongly.

The concept of buying wines because they taste good, rather than because the brand is famous, is definitely helped by the huge range of wine events, plus the quality of sommeliers in Shanghai.

On the sommelier scene in Shanghai:

The best sommeliers in Shanghai today are truly world class. There are some very capable individuals who have a real love of wine, plus the knowledge and enthusiasm to be great educators, and to help make fine wine fun.

On the feasibility of starting an import and distribution company in Shanghai today:

Shanghai is probably not the best place to try to launch a new wine import business, unless the company has a very strong point of difference, or very deep pockets! Rents and staff costs are high, and the on-premise channel is fairly crowded, and so is the retail channel. A business focused on the online channel doesn’t need to be based in Shanghai, and there are other fast-growing cities—Hangzhou, Chengdu, Wuhan—that probably offer greater opportunities.

On his general thoughts of the wine business scene:

When we launched The Wine Republic eight years ago, some people thought we were brave to have a focus on ‘cool climate’ wines, and to how have Bordeaux as a key part of the portfolio. Instead, we chose to specialize in Burgundy, northern Italy, Austria, the cooler regions of Australia and New Zealand, though of course we do have wines from some of the warmer regions.

There is much greater awareness today of wines ‘beyond Bordeaux’, and beyond the major international brands. This is being driven by the inquisitiveness of consumers, and aided by the availability of information, in terms of social media and wine education, by the sommeliers, and by wine events and wine bars that offer interesting wines by the glass.

Note: Check out other interviews in this series, including with Simone InContro of VinItaly, Oliver Zhou of Vinehoo, Charles Carrard of Paradox, Alberto Fernandez of Torres / Everwines and Marcus For .of Pudao.

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