China’s top wine influencer

Who wields the most influence on wine in China? As the year of the dragon kicks off soon, I put this question to various China insiders.

Ian Ford, partner at Summergate, a leading wine importer to China: Yao Ming. He is a mega-star and having him talking about his new wine from California is not just good for California wine, it’s good for all of wine in China. [Summergate does not import the new Yao wines – Ed.]

Jeannie Cho Lee, Master of Wine, author of Asian Palate & Mastering Wine: Han Changfu the current Minister of Agriculture of the People’s Republic of China; controls all national agricultural regulations including wine and can move entire market with one policy change.

Jamie Ritchie, CEO & President, Americas and Asia, Sotheby’s Wine. The Government: who controls both supply and price. By keeping zero tax on wine in Hong Kong, you have this thriving market, that we all know and love (even despite this short term scaling back in demand/prices). In Mainland China, the same is true, as the import/hygiene restrictions limit a more free and open market. A favorable regulatory environment is the most important key to any market.

Debra Meiburg a Master of Wine based in Hong Kong: That’s a tough question. The mainland market is quite fragmented. Voices in Beijing are unknown in Shanghai and vice versa. Don St. Pierre or the Summergate teams are obvious choices as the leading fine wine importers in China. The domestic industry is stepping up their game and in that regard Professor Li Demei is highly influential (Chinese Agricultural University) as well as Professor Ma Huiquin. The auction houses capture the international headlines, but are connecting with a small number of people with deep pockets.

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7 Responses to “China’s top wine influencer”

  1. Interesting thoughts. It will be interesting to see what wine next takes off in China. I believe sales of Burgundy and Italian wines are on the rise and everyone in Australia seems to be trying to break the Chinese market. Perhaps Alsace might be one to watch.

  2. i would think german riesling would be the perfect wine for the chinese market. it’s high acidity makes it a great partner for any food (unlike most big reds), the residual sweetness makes it an easy wine for wine novices to appreciate, and it has enough history and complexity of flavor to be appreciated by wine connoisseurs.

    the only problem is that i’ve been hearing about the coming riesling explosion ever since i started drinking wine, and it never seems to happen…

  3. Certainly the “Emperor of Wine” will command the most influence on wine in China.

    My conclusion is that Wine is a commercial product. The customer ultimately decides what is perceived to be high quality. The winemaker can have a vision for what they wish to create and, providing they have the grapes and skill, can craft a wine of significance. The perception of the customer can be influenced when they tasted the wines, but they cannot be coerced to like the wines. Winemakers can set the trends or benchmarks, but in the long run the market decides what it wishes to buy and consume. It is what the wine makes them feel or sense that constitutes its worth and could be greatly influenced by the social and narrative dimensions of the wine experience.

    George Wong, Wine MBA
    Oenologue & Consultant

  4. Hi Dominic – Yes, the HK auction market has shown Burgundy a lot more love recently. But the question here was who drives the trends and influences the wine market? In the auction world, it may be the market mechanism with Bordeaux simply being overbought. But for the average (mainland) consumer, there were some interesting views here.

    Gabe – Yes, Riesling does go well with Asian cuisine! Who could be the tastemaker who shifts it that direction in China?

    George – Yes, I thought it was interesting that none of the respondents suggested that Robert Parker was a top influencer. Even in the high-end market, the shift to Burgundy (where Parker has not even reviewed the wines personally for a decade or more) is further indication of his reduction in influence.

  5. Interesting point Dr. V. Maybe a lack of a global ambassador is the reason that riesling has never quite taken off.

  6. Gabe – I thought Dr. Loosen and Paul Grieco were already in the role?

  7. Dr. Loosen is a brilliant winemaker, but in my many years as a wine retailer, I never had anyone come in looking for Dr. Loosen the way they look for Rombauer Chardonnay. It just seems like German Riesling has never grasped the everyday drinker the way California Chardonnay has.

    Paul Grieco is another story. While he seems to be reaching a pretty small audience, I think he has the right idea. I recently saw a friend who lives in New York, and she told me about various events all over the city connected to “Summer of Riesling”. I think if this idea could spread across the country, it might be the shot in the arm riesling needs.


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