Q&8 | Stanley Yip & Devo Winery

Stanley Yip has done everything from luxury goods branding to writing a wine column. Now he’s helping to bring the traditional-method sparkling wines of DEVO in Ningxia to the world.

In this Q&8, we talk about how he connected with DEVO, the prospects for bubbly in China, how to get people drinking more wine in general, food pairings for DEVO rosé, his Marselan tasting in Yunnan, and more.

(This interview first appeared in Grape Wall newsletter. Sign up for free here. Also check out plenty more Q&8s here and my previous post about DEVO here.)

1 Grape Wall: I tasted DEVO wines at the Bettane & Desseauve and the ProWine tastings in Beijing last year, and they really stood out. How did you get involved with this Ningxia operation?

Stanley Yip: In mid-2021, I met a CAFA wine instructor in Guangzhou, who is also a winery consultant, and I asked to accompany him on a winery tour of Ningxia. We visited more than a dozen boutique wineries, such as Silver HeightsNine Peaks and Lansai.

That included Devo Winery in the Jinshan Village (Gold Mountain) area of the Yinchuan sub-region, where I met the owner, Mr Zhai Liang. As a long-time Champagne lover, I was full of praise for the style of the wines, made by Jin Gang, especially the complexity and quality.

I asked Mr Zhai, “Does anyone do branding and design for DEVO? If not, our team can help.” That was the beginning of our work together.

I studied luxury management and fashion design in Paris, and used to write a monthly wine column for Esquire Magazine (Hong Kong) from the late 1990s to the 2000s, so I do have some knowledge of wine and the wine industry.

2. Chinese wine is quickly growing in terms of quality and diversity but traditional-method sparkling wine is still fairly rare. How do people react to DEVO wines?

That is a very interesting question!

Let me give you an example. Usually in wine exhibitions like ProWine or the annual Tang Jiu Hui fair in Chengdu, it’s hard to get people to taste our wine at the start. But after an hour or two, everyone comes to try it and many were recommended by friends who tried it earlier that day.

I think some experts will assume we are cheap sparkling wine — “little sweet water” — so they don’t want to try. Others have a stereotype that only the Champagne region can make good sparkling wine. But DEVO really changes their minds. Even the experts or winemakers we met are now amazed and addicted to our wines.

I’d totally agree with you that traditional sparkling method wine is a very niche market in China, especially in mainland China.

We don’t have the tradition of opening a bottle of sparkling wine to celebrate. Many people still don’t like the cold and high acidity. And people don’t think a bottle of white sparkling wine should cost more than RMB100.

But a niche market in China is never a small market.

There are plenty of premium Champagne and sparkling wine lovers in big cities. And because of the popularity of pét-nat and low-alcohol sparkling wine, we can predict the young market will be satisfied with it.

Twenty years ago, I only bought vintage Champagne to gatherings of friends in Hong Kong. Now we see a penchant for fine Champagne and grower’s Champagne there. I think the China market will develop much faster than other new wine markets.

At the same time, Devo Winery’s sparkling wine is not an imitation of cheap Champagne. We found that the unique terroir of Yinchuan gives our sparkling wine a different complex flavor from Champagne or other traditional-method sparkling wine regions. Our potential is limitless.

3. DEVO is also working on still red wines. What is happening with those?

Yes, the vineyards of Devo Winery has some healthy and brilliant Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vines. They are the oldest vines in the winery. But as a sparkling wine-focused winery, the main brand will only market premium traditional-method sparkling wine.

DEVO now works with a few excellent independent winemakers to make still wines which they sell by themselves. We also provide custom-made still wine for customers as their own brands. But those Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vines will be replanted to other grape varieties step by step.

DEVO is also starting a new project called ‘”d” by devo.’ It’s like a second brand, targeting the younger market.

The first wine we launched was a young traditional method sparkling saignée Merlot, with a second fermentation of only 12 months, and no disgorgement. But it’s not a pét-nat — it’s a sparkling wine with high acidity and freshness.

We are also working with a young artist to create the label. We will work with an independent winemaker on this project in the future.

4. You also work with other wineries on label and package design, such as Mountain Wave in Ningxia. Could you talk a bit about those projects?

Yes, I also run a branding and design consulting company. We work with several boutique wineries with my partners, such as Lansai (see image above) and Mountain Wave.

Many people, especially winery owners, think branding is only about wine label design. But we start from the culture and vision of a winery, then find what they want and how to communicate it to the customer.

In fact, reaching out to clients outside of DEVO keeps you close to the pulse and latest trends in the wine market as a whole.

Back to the projects. Lansai works very well with us. For Mountain Wave, we only work with the Mere Wave p.m.m. [Pinot Noir, Malbec and Marselan] label, but their wine is so good! I buy a lot from them. Sometimes I feel that they are not my customer, I am their customer.

5. You have a shop for coffee, tea and wine in the Dali area. When did it open, what wines do you stock, and what are your plans there for 2024?

This is a small shop run by my wife since last year, because we love Yunnan so much. Before the COVID pandemic, we started to look for a place there to open a shop and live.

Our shop is located in a very historic old town called Weishan, 50 km south of Dali City. We chose it because this old town is so local and full of Chinese culture and tradition. We also have many ethnic people like Yi and Hui They all make a special way of life here.

Now we serve international coffee beans roasted by an expert in Guangzhou. We also serve and introduce wines from Ningxia and other regions. The wines are mainly from boutique wineries in the Yinchuan region, but we have good wineries from Xinjiang and the Shangri-la region of Yunnan, too. And we have the whole collection of Devo Winery and Lansai Winery, of course. There is also a small collection of European wines.

Because we source many of the wines directly, we have started to wholesale to some good restaurants and grocery stores in Dali City. We also hold classes and wine tasting events for Yinchuan wines on topics like sparkling wines, Marselan and more.

6. You had a Marselan tasting in the shop last month. How did that work out?

Yes, my wife is a fan of Marselan, so we had a tasting on Christmas Eve. Our customers loved it so much; they all praised the Marselan.

We opened 11 Marselan from throughout China, including sparkling and blended versions. We will also be doing a Marselan tasting in a different place in Dali before Chinese New Year.

7. Sales for the wine industry, both of imports and local brands, have been tough for the past half-dozen years. How can we get more people drinking wine in China?

As someone new to the Chinese wine industry, I may not have much to contribute. However, I strongly believe that we should encourage people to start drinking wine as a regular part of their diet, or as the French call it, ‘alimentation’.

This means not only focusing on high-end award-winning wines, but also creating quality everyday wines that are accessible to all consumers.

By doing so, we can introduce more people to the world of wine and inspire producers to make a wider variety of quality wines for everyone.

Wine has a special charm that people associate with the good life, whether they are drinking it or just admiring it in a glass. I believe that everyone deserves to enjoy the finer things in life, including a good bottle of wine.

8. Chinese New Year is coming and I’ll open a few bottles of DEVO sparkling rose. What are your top three food picks for this wine? Or should I just drink it straight out of the bottle!?

As a wine with freshness, high acidity and complex flavors, ‘“d” by devo’ Rosé is perfect as a welcome drink.

I also find that it pairs well with spicy food, such as Chongqing hot pot. And I discovered the roast duck of Yunnan pairs well, too.

It also goes great with a good pizza or burger, which is my personal favorite.

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