Education, education, education is key for China

China,Aussino,Robert Shen,Taylor's News Wine News
  • Wednesday 26 May 2010

Western producers have to concentrate on education before they make any real headway in the Chinese market.

This is the message from exhibitors at Hong Kong Vinexpo this week.

Veterans of the market, like Camille Seghesio of Seghesio Family Vineyards of Sonoma, or Robert Shen of the massive Aussino retailer in mainland China, are convinced that educating Chinese consumers in the basics of wine is the key to success.

‘Education, and staff training is vital,’ Seghesio, who has been importing mainly premium Zinfandel into China since 2002, told decanter.com today. ‘We shouldn’t deal in specifics, just get across the message that Napa means Cabernet and Sonoma means Zinfandel.’

Observers repeatedly cite the Chinese concept of ‘losing face’ as central to the importance of education.

Neil Hadley of Australian producer Taylors (Wakefield in the UK), said, ‘People are frightened of losing face and showing ignorance. We need to teach at the very basic level of the difference between Old World and New World.’

Shen, who owns 200 retail stores across dozens of cities on the mainland, and was 28th in Decanter’s 2009 Power List, agrees.

‘If I had to concentrate on one thing it would be education.’ To this end, Shen’s empire encompasses wine guides whose sales reach around 80,000 a year, wine courses affiliated to the Bordeaux International Wine Institute and an education centre with 15 full-time staff.

‘It is important because there is no tradition of wine drinking in China,’ he added.

Chinese meals are traditionally taken with tea, and to persuade people – both in restaurants and at home – to change a tradition older than wine itself is a formidable task.

Robert Beynat, president of Vinexpo, is also convinced that to teach people the basics is the way forward.

Far from opening more wine fairs (Vinexpo is already in Hong Kong and Bordeaux and is considering entering the US market once again, after lacklustre editions in New York and Chicago), Beynat says the challenge is to ‘educate the trade, give retailers and sommeliers arguments to sell, information which they will then pass on to the consumer’.

Vinexpo already operates various ‘Academy’ courses with writers and educators such as Jeannie Cho Lee MW, consultant Michel Rolland and members of SAQ, the Canadian retail monopoly.

Producers should also concentrate on Chinese women, who many recognise as vital to growth in China.

While Shen reckons men make up 90% of wine buyers and 70% of drinkers, others consider women will become a key influence.

Earlier this year, research commissioned by Vinexpo found that a potential 50% of Chinese women wine drinkers were solely responsible for the wine purchase in their household.

Beynat suggested today that women make their wine decisions on what they like, rather than what they should like.

‘They are not afraid of losing face – they are more open and more curious in what they look for in a wine.’

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