On Tour in China

Andy’s blog post on the May trip to Hong Kong & China

Ryan Zhu from Jebsen at The Waldorf Astoria in Shanghai
With the focus on China as a growing wine consuming nation and the great representation we have with Jebsen Fine Wine as our distributor in both Hong Kong and China, Misha and I decided to join NZ Wine and participate at the NZ Wine Fairs in Beijing and Shanghai in May. Below is a report on the trip so far and the fantastic interest that has grown for wine in China.

We began the tour with two days in Hong Kong giving the Jebsen Fine Wine team an update on the new release Misha’s Vineyard wines and some of the recent news and reviews to help them with their sales. We also visited friends including Francis Lo – Beverage Manager at The Peninsula Hotel and met some new accounts to discuss opportunities for listings of our wines. Jebsen has such an experienced sales team and good long term relationships with the top hotels and restaurants making every visit a lot of fun as well as serious business. Both days included incredible lunches starting on Thursday at Castelo Concepts’ new outlet, Harrington’s, in Lan Kwai Fong and our Friday lunch at “Whisk” at the newly renovated Mira Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui. Both venues impressed, showing why Hong Kong has a reputation as one of the fine food capitals in the world.

A good crowd attended the NZ Wine Fair in Beijing
We travelled across from Hong Kong to Beijing over the weekend and met the Jebsen Beijing team for the first time. It was great to finally meet them and to provide an introduction to Misha’s Vineyard and go through some details of the Misha’s Vineyard wines in the portfolio. I was also surprised to find their office was just a few buildings along from my former software company office in Beijing – so I felt like I knew the location quite well. While we had not met the Jebsen Beijing team before, they already knew a little about NZ Wine and many had recently attended a WSET program as part of their training as Jebsen sales reps. While in Beijing, the off-trade manager for Jebsen took us to visit a prestigious wine store where most of the wines sold were for gifts and the importance of packaging was clearly evident.
Misha presents Pinot Noir at Tsinghua University
Gift giving is such an important part of the Chinese culture and increasingly wine is selected as a gift that will show value and beauty.

On Monday evening we had the privilege to present to a wine club at the prestigious Tsinghua University in Shanghai. The session was organized by Literature Professor Edward Ragg and his wife – well known wine educator and great New Zealand wine supporter Fongyee Walker. After the initial introduction on New Zealand wine by Professor Edward Ragg, four New Zealand wine producers had the opportunity to present a wine for tasting and tell some stories about themselves to the more than 40 students who had come to try a range of New Zealand varietals including Little Beauty Sauvignon Blanc, Vinoptima Gewürztraminer, Sileni Merlot and of course, Misha’s Vineyard Pinot Noir.

China's new generation wine lovers at Tsinghua University
The interest in wine in China continues to grow at an exponential rate. Traditionally Chinese have just been consumers of locally produced wines, or purchased top shelf French wines, mostly for gifts and not to consume. However the many thousands of “new generation” wine consumers in China now show intense interest in the broader variety of wines from both new and old world producers. For us, having the opportunity to present New Zealand wines to this keenly interested group is both fun and rewarding as this group will share their new knowledge with their friends and family developing the New Zealand wine category for the future. It is also a great source of information for us as the students – once they overcome their shyness – are keen to discuss why they have taken an interest in wine and what varietals are of interest to them. They are also eager to provide an insight into the future and share their vision of wine trends in this huge and diverse market. What was the most exciting part of the presentation for them… the opportunity to win a trip to New Zealand courtesy of New Zealand Trade & Enterprise by posting an entry about New Zealand wine on Weibo – the Chinese equivalent of Twitter!

The Misha's Vineyard stand at NZ Wine Fair
The New Zealand Wine Fair in Beijing was held at the Beijing Hilton Hotel, with the 30 wineries on show having over 350 attendees (up 40% on last year) moving around the stands tasting the range on offer. While most of the attendees were importers or distributors looking for new brands, some were also trade buyers from retailers and hotels looking to grow their listings of New Zealand wines. The format was somewhat standard – hotel venue, small tables and rows of wines – which in a competitive market where almost every week a country or wine importer is running an event, needs to be rethought. New Zealand has a history and reputation for innovation and – using the NZTE catch-phrase “new thinking” – for capturing the imagination of the market. We look forward to a new format for presenting New Zealand wines in future events.

The Jebsen team supported us in both venues
The NZ Wine Fair event in Shanghai was similar in nature, but slightly lower attendees due to the rain and more difficult to find venue. We also discovered there was another wine fair (featuring Chilean wine) being held at the same time which limited the number of sommeliers and retailers attending. Our highlight in Shanghai was our visits with our Jebsen team to some amazing hotels and restaurants – many of which have or will have our wines on the lists. We developed an even deeper understanding of the need to have a focussed approach to China – building a brand and not just moving boxes of wine. Our target, and the support from Jebsen Fine Wines, is ensuring we are listed in great hotels and restaurants, and that we show quality and value long term.

The amazing Moller Villa Hotel in Shanghai
Prior to coming to Shanghai we had chosen the Moller Villa Hotel to stay through an on-line review, but had not fully appreciated what a great find this was. The Moller Villa was built in 1936 by a British Merchant Prince – an eccentric – as a fantasy European castle to meet the dreams of his young daughter. The Moller Villa has been beautifully maintained in original style while adding modern amenities. Its location on the edge of the French Concession provided easy access to boutiques and restaurants and being in a castle with gardens seemed somewhat surreal in the sea of high rise that is Shanghai.

Now back in Hong Kong – we are preparing for VINEXPO – promoted as “the world’s biggest wine and spirit fair” that will see 15,000 trade visitors over the 3 day event. But more on that later…