Wine education in Hong Kong
Wednesday May 30th 2012, 9:11 am
Filed under: wine
Wine education is a booming business in Hong Kong.
Interest in wine is a direct result of the abolition of taxes in February 2008, combined with a cosmopolitan market of people who want to use wine as a networking tool.
The most prestigious qualifications come from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET), based in the United Kingdom.
Hong Kong and Macau contain less than 0.2 per cent of the world’s population yet 28 of the 440 WSET approved education providers worldwide – almost 7 per cent of the total – are in those cities. The number of students in Hong Kong jumped 67 per cent in the year to February 2012, WSET data showed. Level 1 student numbers soared 80 per cent in the same period.
Only approved companies are allowed to advertise WSET qualifications. These qualifications are recognised worldwide and are available in 58 countries. About 35,000 people take WSET examinations each year. International candidates account for 70 per cent of the total.
The Asia Wine Service & Education Centre (AWSEC) is the only program provider in Hong Kong approved to run courses at all levels.
The first level provides a basic introduction to wine and runs for six hours. Level 2 offers broad coverage of all wine regions. Level 3 focuses on in-depth knowledge of a wide range of wines and spirits and is aimed at industry practitioners. The diploma in wines and spirits, level 4, is WSET’s flagship qualification.
This diploma is seen as the stepping stone to the highly-prestigious Master of Wine qualification. Only 299 people hold the MW worldwide. A handful of people are studying for the MW in this region. Hong Kong has two MWs, Debra Meiburg and Jeannie Cho Lee.
Jennie Mack is AWSEC’s managing director and senior wine educator. She runs courses six evenings a week from offices in Sheung Wan.
Mack said a feature of Hong Kong was the range of professional people taking courses, and the high ratio of women students. Level 2 classes sometimes had four women for every man.
Level 2 courses cost $6,300 to $6,800 – though discounts are available for paying a month in advance – and run for two hours a night over eight weeks. Fees for level 3 courses are about $9,800, though again discounts are available for payment in advance. These run for 14 weeks for 2.25 hours each week.
Fees appear high in Hong Kong compared with UK prices. Level 2 on the WSET web site costs 405 GBP, or $4,922. Level 3 costs 675 GBP or $8,204.
Mack said wine was becoming an important aspect of business, and professionals attended courses to gain the confidence to be able to talk about wine with clients and contacts. “A bit of peer group pressure is also there,” she said. “We have bankers, financial types, and doctors at our courses as well as industry people.”
Level 3 courses tend to have more men than women – three men for every two women – while the diploma course has a gender balance. “Wine education gives people the chance to enjoy the finer things of life without being snobby about it,” Mack said.
Later this year Wine Australia will work with 24 wine educators across Asia to deliver a level 1 introductory course about Australian wine. Lucy Anderson, Wine Australia’s Asia director, said the courses would be offered in China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, India and Hong Kong. AWSEC would be the education partner in Hong Kong and the course would be called A+.
A trial A+ level 1 course was held in Hong Kong this month (Subs: May). Anderson said student feedback was overwhelmingly positive. “More than 90 per cent of participants said they would like to complete the level 2 course.”
Cottage Vineyards in Causeway Bay offers WSET courses at levels 1 to 3. Ada Leung, the company’s sales and marketing director, said wine courses were perceived as being similar to golf and piano lessons – something people needed to acquire.
Conway Chan, Cottage’s operations director, said wine had become fashionable, and was associated with sophistication. Wine re-sellers like Cottage Vineyards said education was necessary so people would be more adventurous in their wine purchases, instead of only buying known brands from Bordeaux.
Annabel Jackson, who teaches wine studies at the IFT hotel school in Macau and the University of Hong Kong, said the boom was exciting. “It is clearly not only people working in the industry who are taking certificate classes.”
Her HKU classes, in the Department of Personal Development, were entitled Wine as a Life Skill. “That is exactly why people are there,” she said. “It is critical to have at least some wine knowledge now, given the huge popularity of wine.”
“Where there’s wine, there’s civilisation,” Jackson said.
Ian Symonds is a wine educator for HK Space, the outreach arm of the University of Hong Kong, and the IFT hotel school in Macau. Symonds is one of the few people in Hong Kong qualified to teach wine educators. He often taught every night of the week, he said, such was the demand for wine classes.
Conway Chan Cottage Vineyards noted the difficulty in finding qualified people to teach diploma-level classes. They needed to be native English speakers because assessment was only in English and involved writing essays to assess wines, a high-level intellectual skill.
Published in WineTimes, June 2012. Find a link here.
Limoux: Original sparkling wine
Tuesday May 29th 2012, 8:37 am
Filed under: wine
Limoux is believed to be the first place in France to produce sparkling wines in the “traditional method” – by monks at the St Hilaire Abbey in 1531.
Four and a half centuries later an expert from the Champagne region, Michel Dervin, recognised the region’s potential and using methods from Champagne made sparkling wines using a local grape, mauzac. Dervin believed the terroir, combined with the region’s hot days and cool nights, had potential. He founded Domaine J Laurens in the village of La Digne d’Aval.
The mauzac grape ripens late, and has traditionally been picked when temperatures dropped in Limoux, in the south-west of France. This permitted slow fermentation that preserved residual sugar for a “natural” second fermentation in the spring, to create a lively sparkling wine.
Jacques Calvel purchased Domaine J Laurens in 2002 as a “retirement job”. Calvel was working as an entrepreneur in Switzerland, but a Limoux native.
An energetic man who looks much younger than his 70 years, Calvel presented his wines at the office of Cottage Vineyards to an exclusive group of wine lovers in Hong Kong. Calvel makes only sparkling wine. He wants to continue the style of the former owner and make wines that are true to their terroir.
His non-vintage Le Moulin Blanquette de Limoux brut is a delight. It is made from 90 per cent mauzac, with 5 per cent each of chenin blanc and chardonnay. Moulin is French for windmill. Farmers in the region used them to pump water and they still dot the horizon.
The green apple aromas come from the mauzac. The chardonnay adds finesse, while the chenin blanc gives a bite of acidity.
The Calvel sparkling has very fine bead. The bead is the name for the bubbles that spread from the bottom of the glass, and the finer the bead the finer the wine. This wine tastes of green apples, with a touch of molasses sweetness. It’s like walking through an apple orchard as the fruit ripens.
The feeling of the bubbles in the mouth – the technical term is mousse – offers a wine that is full-bodied and yeasty, with a lovely tang of lemon zest. Around the edge of the wine can be found a beautiful “collerette” – loosely defined as a lace collar of froth at the top of the wine, a sign of a well-made wine.
The wine could be served at any stage of a meal. It would be wonderful as an aperitif, or with an entrée like marinated salmon, light fish dishes, or most white meats. It would also pair nicely with creamy cheeses as a dessert. The wine’s high acidity would cut through the fat of the cheese and produce a delightful combination of flavours.
Calvel runs a small family-based operation. He said the aim was to find the balance between the grape’s acidity and its natural sugars. “The levels depend on the date of the harvest.” He always picks the earliest of any estate in the region and based on the tasting I attended manages to extract the best combination.
It helps that his estate is 300 metres above sea level, in the foothills of the Pyrenees which divide France and Spain. The location means he gets ideal weather conditions: hot days and moderate nights, which contribute to the quality of the fruit.
About 75 per cent of Calvel’s wines are exported, mostly to the United States. He plans to offer wines in the Asian region as soon as he can find an agent.
* Published in China Post, 7 June 2012, page 10, under the headline “Limoux grapes make sparkling wines sparkle”. Find a link here.
HK Art show review for The Jackdaw, UK
A life-sized sculpture of a naked old woman greeted visitors to this year’s Hong Kong international art show that ran from May 17-20.
It was one of the more controversial exhibits, attracting scores of admirers and detractors. Part of the attraction was the fact the sculpture seemed so real: An electric motor made the woman’s stomach rise and fall gently as if the wizened creature were alive.
The sculpture, by Shen Shaomin, was called “I want to know what infinity is”. It had an eternal beauty, despite the woman’s shriveled dugs and almost bald head. She reclined in a deck chair on a bed of salt, her legs spread to reveal a withered pudenda.
The Hong Kong art show, in its fifth year, is now a fixture on the international circuit. From next year it will be known as Art Basel, to become one of the major art shows on the world circuit in terms of size and glitz. Almost 270 galleries from 38 countries exhibited this year.
Fair director Magnus Renfrew said one thing could not be denied: “Asia is now clearly centre stage on the international art market.”
Despite the Shen sculpture, nudity was relatively lacking at this year’s event. So were bow ties. Mercifully, I saw only one man wearing such an aberration.
Highlight of the show, in terms of political impact, was the installation by Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist. He has done most to publicise the Chinese government’s dreadful track record in explaining the tragedy of the earthquake at Wenchuan in Sichuan province in May 2008.
Ai’s exhibit was called “Cong”. A “cong” is a jade tube with a circular inner section and a squarish outer structure. It is believed to be a ritual object though the original purpose has been lost in time.
For the Hong Kong show Ai Weiwei built a huge cong, five metres long and three metres high. The circular inner structure contains the names of the 5,196 students killed when the earthquake toppled scores of schools.
Between October 2009 and May 2010 volunteers at Ai Weiwei’s studio sent 183 letters to Chinese government departments seeking information about the earthquake, aiming to discover why the buildings collapsed so easily.
Replies to the 183 letters are displayed on the outside walls of the “cong”. Those replies are almost identical, suggesting a bureaucracy uniform in its refusal to disclose what it knows about the earthquake. The notes that accompany the “cong” said, simply: “So far, not one government department has given a direct reply to any of the questions asked.”
This exhibition explains why the Chinese government seems to hate Ai Weiwei so much.
Another memorable exhibition included the photographs of Chen Jiagong. Chen displayed huge images of China’s ugliness – polluted cities and industrial sites, and derelict towns. Yet each photograph showed in the foreground the face and figure of at least one beautiful Chinese woman. These images were haunting, sad, and exquisite.
Thousands of people flocked through the turnstiles. Organisers said the total would be the highest to date. Most were much younger than the kinds of people who attend art events like this in the UK.
Tickets to Hong Kong’s international art show cost 255 HKD. The catalogue cost 250 HKD, setting attendees back 41 pounds for the combined items. The tote bag given away with the catalogue had these words on the outside: “Money creates taste.” Let’s hope it was meant ironically.
The glory of Laroche
Monday May 21st 2012, 7:19 am
Filed under: wine
The region of Chablis is officially part of Burgundy in France but is 100 km north of the famous Cote d’Or near the city of Beaune. Because of its northern location its climate is more like the Champagne region.
Chablis produces unique wines. Chardonnay is the only white grape grown in Burgundy, yet the wines of Chablis are very different from the rich offerings of Puligy-Montrachet and Meursault to the south. Many wine drinkers may not be aware that chablis is made from chardonnay grapes.
My eminent wine columnist colleague Annabel Jackson wrote recently that in Chablis “the chardonnay grape is allowed to sing, unadorned with the conceits of winemaker intervention”. She expressed the key concept more elegantly than I can, saying the grape is more a “conduit of the place”, rather than a straightforward expression of chardonnay.
Chablis’ 4,000 hectares of vineyards produce wines that reflect the region’s terroir, sometimes translated as the expression of the soil. Experts on terroir say the Kimmeridgian soil – made of limestone, clay and fossilised oyster shells – gives the wines a salty, steely and mineral quality. It is sometimes described as “tasting of gunflint”.
Domaine Laroche is a major vineyard owner in Chablis, with 100 hectares. It is known for the high quality of its wines. Michel Laroche is often spoken of as the “king of Chablis” and was the winemaker from 1967 until this year. Gregory Viennois became the winemaker last year.
A Domaine Laroche tasting to mark the 160th vintage – the family have been making wines since 1850 – showed the majesty of the domaine. The domaine was also a pioneer in the use of screwcaps instead of cork.
Chablis has four ranks of production: petit chablis, chablis, premier cru chablis and grand cru chablis.
Petit chablis tends to be a simple wine. Grapes come from Portlandian rather than Kimmeridgerian soil, and produce wines that are less elegant than the other categories. The 2010 Laroche petit chablis smelled like sun-bleached sheets and had a lively acidity. It is a wine to drink now.
The 2010 Laroche Saint Martin chablis had a creamy taste that complimented the steely acidity – a reflection of the Kimmeridgerian terroir – plus a lingering acid tang. Saint Martin is the patron saint of Chablis. The wine had an aroma of nectarines and white peaches.
The 2009 premier cru chablis, from old vines in the Fourchaumes region, was an absolute delight. Aromas from the glass made me feel I was walking by the ocean at dusk, cradling a ripe pineapple. Some of the vines are up to 80 years old, with an average age of 45. They give the wine an elegance and complexity, and lingering acidity that also seemed slightly honeyed. My tasting notes referred to flavours of iodine and kelp.
Highlight of the tasting was the 2006 grand cru reserve de l’Obedience.
The Oxford Companion to Wine says only 100 of the 4,000 hectares of vines in Chablis are grand cru. They are all on one slope facing southwest outside town and are called Les Clos, Blanchots, Bougros, Vaudesir, Valmur, Preuses and Grenouilles. Only 300 cases are made each year of L’Obedience, from the ripest fruit and best barrels from the Blanchots vineyard.
Up to 70 different components enter the final blend. This wine is intense in flavour yet delicate. The amount of oak it receives depends on the quality of grapes each year, but is typically seven to eight months in a combination of new and old barrels. L’Obedience is a rich and generous wine with aromas of peach and pineapple. At the same time it felt refined and elegant.
Laroche brand ambassador Isabelle Lejean said L’Obedience refers to the order of monks who first planted vines in the region.
Annabel Jackson said that unlike some regions of France, such as Alsace and the Right Bank in Bordeaux, the grand cru category in Chablis is stable, and managed by an association that Michel Laroche established in 2000.
She described all of the Laroche wines as having “a streak of steely acidity, a firm flintiness, and a decisive mineral quality”. They would match perfectly with seafood with similar mineral qualities such as oysters and crabs.
In Taiwan Domaine Laroche wines are distributed by Creation Wines.
In Indonesia, Domaine Laroche wines are distributed by Bogacitra.
* Published in China Post, 31 May 2012, page 10, under the headline “Wine from France’s Chablis show region’s uniqueness”. Find a link here.
Wednesday May 09th 2012, 11:25 pm
Filed under: wine
Pinot noir is the most fickle of grapes, and many winemakers have an intense relationship with it. David Hirsch founded Hirsch Vineyard in northern California in 1980, determined to make great pinot on a site he still calls a “ranch”.
The vineyard has 72 acres and 90,000 vines, all planted and cultivated by vineyard manager Everardo Robledo.
The site is at the northern end of the Sonoma region of California, a few kilometres from the Pacific Ocean. Having visited the region, I can agree with what David Hirsch writes on the vineyard web site: The climate is unpredictable with wide variations in temperature, with wild storms and winds. “As a result, each year we enter into a fresh relationship with the site and learn anew how to farm for balance and site-specificity.”
David’s daughter Jasmine presented examples of the 2008 and 2009 pinots to a group of wine lovers. She said the wines are made “in the vineyard” using natural yeasts, and with limited new oak and minimal extraction of color from the skins.
The pinots receive 16 to 18 months in oak but only 40 per cent of that is new. “Oak should support the wine and not dominate it.” This is a pleasure to hear, given the dominance of new oak in many French wines.
The Hirsch approach also allows natural fruit acidity to reveal itself. Acidity in wine is like salt in food – just the right amount enhances the taste and too much drowns the meal. The acid balance on all four wines I tasted was just right.
The 2008 vintage was full of contradictions, Jasmine explained. Blocks that were routinely picked early came in late, with a variety of berry sizes.
Fires ravaged Northern California in June as the grapes were ripening and smoke descended on the vineyard for 10 days. Jasmine suggested the pinot had a smoky influence. I found the “M” estate 2008 pinot noir a delightful combination of ripe sweet cherries on the nose surrounded by a lively acidic structure.
The wine was made from the best 20 barrels that year. The ripeness is reflected in the relatively high alcohol: 14.6 per cent.
If 2008 was a tough year for making wine, 2009 was the reverse. It was one of the two great vintages of last decade (2007 was the other) in Northern California.
The vineyard is located near the San Andreas Fault, where the Pacific and North American tectonic plates meet and grind. The collision of these masses produced California about three million years ago. The location provides the name for the 2009 San Andreas Fault pinot noir, Hirsch Vineyard’s signature wine. It contains fruit from 21 distinct blocks within the vineyards.
Jasmine said the 2009 vintage was remarkable for the coolness and evenness of the weather during the growing season. It produced wines of great balance, high acidity and complex aromatics that could be cellared for at least a decade.
It tasted of raspberries and cherries, with hints of licorice and lavender, supported by soft tannins. A second taste much later in the evening produced aromas of forest floor and a sour-cherry acidity.
Highlight of the evening was the 2009 reserve estate pinot noir, which has just been released. It is Hirsch’s first reserve, and represents a selection of the nine best barrels from the oldest and finest blocks. Reserve wines are only produced in vintages of exceptional quality.
Only 330 cases were made. Hirsch wines can be purchased online at http://www.hirschvineyards.com.
Jasmine likened tasting pinot noir to going to the theatre. We see the red velvet curtain and we anticipate what is behind the curtain. We can appreciate the color of the curtain but with time the curtain opens to reveal the beauty of the stage and the production. With patience, pinot opens to reveal its beauty.
The reserve pinot is delightful while young but will be even better if we can wait half a decade. It felt denser than the San Andreas Fault pinot noir and was complex in the sense of being delicate yet strong.
The acid-tannin-fruit balance is superb, and it offered a range of dark cherry aromas and flavors. The acidity balances the sweetness of the ripe fruit, supported by a silky soft tannin backbone that integrates well.
* Published in China Post, 24 May 2012, page 10, under the headline “Hirsch Vineyard enlightens wine lovers with exquisite pinot noir”. Find a link here.
Jean Leon wines
Wednesday May 09th 2012, 11:15 pm
Filed under: wine
The story of Jean Leon wines reads like a movie script. In 1951, at the age of 19, Jean Leon stowed away aboard a ship to New York from his native Spain.
Born Ceferino Carrión in the city of Santander, he changed his name and worked as a taxi driver until he made enough money to open a restaurant.
In 1956 Leon moved to California, where in partnership with the actor James Dean he opened what became the most prestigious restaurant in Hollywood, La Scala.
Family legend says he was disappointed with the available wines so in 1964 he opened a vineyard in the Penedes region south of Barcelona in Spain, illegally obtaining cuttings of chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon while in France. The cabernet came from the famous Lafite vineyard in Bordeaux.
These were the first plantings in Spain of these grape varieties. Later Jean Leon’s New York taxi badge became the logo of the vineyard’s introductory level wines.
The Torres family bought the vineyard when Leon died in 1994. The property consists of 150 hectares, with 67 under vines.
The estate is divided into several sections known as “pagos,” and only one wine is produced in each section. All grapes for the premium wines are sourced from the vineyard. The “pago” concept is equivalent to the “cru” in Bordeaux, or the “vignetti” in Italy and the “quinta” in Portugal.
Mireia Torres Maczassek, the owner, presented premium Leon wines at a press lunch in Hong Kong.
We began with the 2007 Vinya Gigi chardonnay. Pale yellow in colour, it received six months ageing on lees in French oak barrels and then bottle aging for another half year. Leaving a wine on lees gives it more character, which explains the flavours of tropical fruits.
This is an elegant wine. The aromas of toast come from the oak barrels. The wine’s acidity balanced nicely with the toast aromas. It was like smelling lemons and limes while in a bakery. The wine had a long aftertaste – the sign of a quality product. Gigi is the name of one of Leon’s children.
A highlight was the 2001 grand reserve cabernet sauvignon. This wine was aged for 25 months in new French barriques, and then spent three years in the bottle to develop. It offers aromas of mint, eucalyptus and blackcurrants plus a slight honeyed sweetness.
The same toasty notes as the chardonnay can be attributed to the barrel ageing. Mireia Torres described the long and lingering aftertaste as “hedonistic”, and I was inclined to agree.
All grand reserve cabernets have a painting on the back label by a well-known Spanish artist, a reflection of the Torres family’s passion for the arts. The painting on the 2001 vintage is by Mireia’s mother.
The grand reserve was served with the main course, and slightly overshadowed the 2005 reserve cabernet sauvignon, served with cheeses at the end. It was a Bordeaux-style blend of 85 per cent cabernet sauvignon and 15 per cent cabernet franc.
Mireia suggested it should be kept until 2014 when it would be fun to observe how its aromas of currants and plums had softened and integrated.
It was aged for 18 months in French and American oak and then spent two years in bottle at the winery. It was dark cherry in colour with a smooth front palate and soft tannins.
A spicy aftertaste, a product of the oak ageing, combined lovingly with aromas of ripe blackberries and toast. The malolactic fermentation the winemaker used explains the soft and creamy sensation in the mouth.
Some Jean Leon wines are available in Taiwan at Finesse Cellars. The 2005 reserve cabernet retails for NTD $1,200 and the 2001 grand reserve for NTD $2,000.
* Published in China Post, Taiwan, under the headline “History of Jean Leon adds extra bouquet to delicious wines,” page 10, 17 May 2012. Find a link here.
The 3 Wine Company philosophy
Sunday May 06th 2012, 12:33 pm
Filed under: wine
When Matt Cline started his current vineyard in California he pondered over what to call it, and settled on the Three Wine Company.
Why Three? The philosophy was simple, he explained. Winemaking involves three things: choose appropriate terroir, work with the climate in the area, and don’t interfere. In other words, let the land or “terroir” express itself. “Hands off is the key phrase for the third part,” Cline said.
Cline has been making wine for almost 28 years. The Three philosophy produces some wondrous wines.
Many of Cline’s wines are blended, using grapes sourced from vines planted more than a century ago. Cline aims to combine grapes from old vines with modern techniques. Many of the vines grow in very sandy soils that receive no irrigation.
The only water the grapes receive is what falls from the skies, and rain is infrequent in many parts of California. This concentrates flavors, a feature of all of Cline’s wines.
Photographs of the regions where his grapes are grown show it to be almost desert. The arid nature provided one benefit: the phylloxera louse cannot survive in the sandy soil. The louse, native to North America, devastated vineyards around the world in the 1850s and 1970s.
Cline’s 2008 Evangelho zinfandel from Contra Costa County is an example of the careful merging of art and nature. The Evangelho family has been growing grapes for more than 70 years. “In 1964 Frank Evangelho took over farming this vineyard from his dad Manuel. I consider Frank one of the most meticulous and passionate growers I know,” Cline said.
This Evangelho is a blend of 79 per cent zinfandel, 12 per cent petite sirah, 4 per cent alicante bouschet, 3 per cent carignane and 2 per cent mataro. The minor chords give the wine black cherry colour while the dominant zinfandel produces a crescendo of soft tannins and blackberry flavors. This is a wine to enjoy with a casserole or spice-based lamb dishes.
Petite sirah is a grape variety unique to the United States and Australia. In Australia it is known as durif, a hybrid of shiraz and peloursin. The grape is named after Francois Durif, a botanist at the University of Montpelier who created it in 1880. It produces tannic and densely black wine. Combined in small quantities with zinfandel it provides body and strength.
Alicante bouschet is a tenturier, a French word that refers to grapes whose flesh and juice are red. Most red wines have white flesh and get their colour from skin contact. Tenturier grapes are useful for blending with lighter red grapes to give darker colour.
Another standout wine was the 2009 old vines field blend, also sourced from old vines in Contra Costa County. The blend consists of 34 per cent zinfandel, 27 per cent carignane, 19 per cent petite sirah, 17 per cent mataro, 2 per cent alicante bouschet, and 1 per cent black malvoisie.
It took time to open and should be decanted ideally in the morning before it’s enjoyed with dinner. Eventually it oozes blackberry essence and a deliciously long length. A wine worth opening in a decade.
Highlight of the tasting was the 2006 S3X late harvest riesling. The name stands for “small sweet sips”. Cline said it was only produced when conditions allowed for a natural mould called botrytis cinerea or “noble rot”.
The wine has a similar flavour profile to a trockenbeerenauslese – the finest and sweetest of German dessert wines. Intense aromas of peach and apricot mingled with just the right amount of acid zing to produce a wine that would pair perfectly with blue cheese.
This wine won a “sweepstakes award” for the best of the best wines at the 2008 San Francisco Chronicle wine competition. It was chosen as one of the top seven wines from 4,235 wines entered by more than 1,500 wineries.
Published in the Jakarta Globe, 10 May 2012, under the headline “Cultivating a mix of old and new in the Golden State”. Find a link here.
Circle of Wine Writers magazine
Trends detected from the fifth Wine China Expo in Beijing in late April 2012 were a drift away from a fascination with red, an interest in less-sweet wines, and a growing sophistication in wine marketing.
How do we measure sophistication? I use the mini-skirt ratio. At other wine exhibitions I have attended in China, booth owners employed attractive young women in mini skirts to market their wine. Most winemakers I spoke with talked of the inverse relationship between skirts and wine: The shorter the skirts, the worse the wine. Some of the skirts in previous years have been very revealing.
This year in Beijing I noted fewer mini-skirts.
China has not become the acme of sophistication over night. Some booth owners still offer lukewarm white wine in plastic wine glasses. Many still display their wares but do not offer them for tasting. Yes, a wine tasting without the tasting. Some decorate their booths with sweet-smelling flowers whose aromas overwhelm the flavours one detects from their wine.
But one cannot deny the growth of the wine business in China. See my other article in this edition for details. This year’s Wine China Expo was held in Beijing on April 23 and 24 April for trade people, with April 25 allocated for public visitors. The location was the China World Trade Center in Beijing. It attracted 300 exhibitors from 35 countries who paid for 450 booths (though perhaps a fifth of the booths marketed olive oil).
Robert Wu, who managed the event, said last year’s Beijing expo, also in April, attracted 200 exhibitors from 24 countries. The 50 per cent increase in the number of exhibitors this year suggests growth.
It was difficult to estimate the number of attendees in Beijing because admission is free once people register with a business card. Given the ease with which one can buy fake business cards in China, who knows how many legitimate attendees were there. The official figure for attendance was 12,000.
The expo moved to Shanghai for April 26, which must have meant some trauma for jet-lagged Western exhibitors who had to finish about 5pm on April 25 and be set up in Shanghai for 10am the next day. Domestic flights in China, especially between Beijing and Shanghai (about two hours to the south), are seldom on time.
At least at the Beijing event no-one tried to sell me fake watches, jewellery and handbags: something that has happened at earlier wine events. This article I wrote for China Daily in June 2011 describes the experiences of the Shanghai international wine festival: http://squinn.org/?p=401
It will take some years for China to match the success of VINEXPO Asia-Pacific, the major wine event held on consecutive years in Hong Kong and Bordeaux. The 2012 exhibition from May 29-31 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre will assemble a record 1,050 exhibitors from 28 countries, and anticipates 14,000 buyers from around the world.
At this year’s Beijing event I noted that while red wines remain popular, but sensed whites and sparklings might be starting to gain a foothold. Many of the wines my colleagues and I tasted were less sweet than in previous years. Moscato appears to be emerging as a popular variety.
The expo also saw the first booth occupied by a Canadian winemaker, Unsworth Vineyards, from Mill Bay in British Columbia.
One interesting feature was the number of booths marketing wines from former Soviet countries like Georgia, or former Communist-aligned nations such as Romania.
Romania’s wine producers are looking to China for their future. A special wine-loading terminal is being built in Galati harbour on the country’s east coast. It is a contract between Romanian exporters and Chinese investors. China’s national news agency, Xinhua, reported the deal was worth about 50 million euros ($US 70 million).
Romania has eight main wine regions, 37 vineyards, and 171 viticulture centres. The industry was worth 270 million euros ($US 375 million) last year.
Because of its economic growth rate of 9 per cent in 2011, and a steadily rising number of wine consumers, China has established itself as one of the world’s ten largest wine markets. China’s wine industry in the first quarter of 2011 was worth RMB 7.37 billion (up 23.8 per cent from the previous year) with sales of RMB 7.272 billion (up 26.2 per cent).
Imported wines represented 15 per cent of the total market and were expected to rise dramatically. China Customs reports that the annual growth rate of imported wines was about 30 per cent.
The top four distribution points for imported wines were hotels and restaurants, supermarkets and stores, terminal outlets, and group purchases. This represented 95 per cent of total sales.
Chinese taxes on imported wines are high, compared with Hong Kong where taxes were abolished in June 2008.
All imported wines attract customs duty of 14 per cent. Add to that another 17 per cent of value-added tax (VAT) and then a consumption tax of 10 per cent of the previous prices. In all, it adds about 42 per cent to the original cost.
China’s wine market doubled in the five years to 2011, influenced by the adoption of Western culinary habits and a rise in personal incomes. Based on this growth rate, by the end of 2012 China will be the seventh largest wine-consuming nation in the world. By then the Chinese will be drinking 1,000 million bottles of wine a year.