Ni Hao Grape Wallers!
Time for a quick newsletter. This one features producers doubling as importers, a secret Chinese wine region, a leadership change at ASC, the twentieth birthday of Torres China and more. If you missed the last issue, with updates on the Million Bottle Wine Club, wacky labels and Shanghai retail, you can find it here.
Please pass this newsletter to others interested in China's wine scene. They can also sign up at this link.
Cheers, Jim Boyce
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Producers Doubling as Importers
Many people think the biggest wine importers in China are those with labels in supermarkets and restaurants in Beijing, Guangzhou or Shanghai. Names like ASC, Aussino, Torres and Summergate come to mind.
But only one of those companies ranks in the top 20 of the 5,000-plus firms that imported wine in 2016. Instead, the list includes many logistics firms that import for online retailers, supermarket and regional wholesalers.
One name that does stand out near the top is Changyu. It’s China’s biggest producer, with ambition to match, and a growing player in terms of imports. And it's not alone, with another striking example being top-five producer Weilong, which is now building a massive facility in Australia that will likely see most of its wine head to China.
For more thoughts on Chinese producers doubling as importers, click here.
The Wine Region No One Could Imagine
Want to hear a secret? Seriously? There is an amazing wine region in China that no one could imagine.
Except writers like Jancis Robinson, Michel Bettane, Karen MacNeil, Andrew Jefford and Jeremy Oliver, trade publications like Wine Spectator, Corriere Vinicolo, La RVF, Sommelier India and Decanter, and media like CBS, AFP, EFE, CBC and ARD.
Except guests of the region’s trade fairs, conferences and festivals, the judges who gave its wines hundreds of medals in global and local contests, and the consumers who tried those wines and more.
Plus the OIV, Society of Wine Educators and Court of Master Sommeliers, students of training programs at home and abroad, and officials, investors, winemakers, viticulturalists, farmers, equipment sellers, marketers and others in the wine scene.
No one except these people--and VinItaly
. For more on this seemingly hard-to-imagine region and why the VinItaly press release announcing it leaves much to be desired, click here.
Torres China Turns Twenty
Torres China marks two decades of business this year and got staff and winery partners together during the recent China Food & Drinks Fair in Chengdu as part of the celebration.
Miguel A. Torres started the company in 1997 when China was a blip on wine world radar. Current managing partner Alberto Fernandez came on board three years later and has since steered the firm through 17 years of China’s roller-coaster wine scene.
Torres has carried wines from over a dozen countries, held lots of fun events such as the Taste of Nations series and this Mas de Plana tasting, and started the Everwines retail branch that includes shops in cities like Beijing, Foshan, Guangdong, Nanjing and Shanghai. But three things about Torres stand out more than anything to me.
One, so many employees have stayed so long at Torres, in an industry with notoriously high turnover, and that says a lot about the company and its culture.
Two, Torres played a key role promoting quality Chinese wine by distributing Shanxi’s Grace Vineyard from 2004 to 2016 (Grace decided to move to ASC last year) and Ningxia’s Silver Heights since its first vintage in 2009. The recent launch of Silver Heights’ “Last Warrior” series is the latest move.
Third, Torres has been the most consistent supporter of Grape Wall of China. From participating in the annual Grape Wall Challenge to providing insights into the wine scene and chances to taste new vintages of Chinese wines, Torres has helped make Grape Wall better.
Leadership change at ASC
Change at the top for importer and distributor ASC Fine Wines as Bruno Baudry has resigned as CEO and been replaced by Yoshihiko Shibuya. Baudry, who will continue in an advisory role, is leaving for personal reasons and will relocate to Japan where his family lives, according to an ASC press release.
Shibuya has been involved in the wine side of Suntory. owner of ASC, for two decades, including five in France. He recently joined ASC as a board member. The press release also noted that Simon Wang will be the new Chief Operating Officer at ASC.
ASC was established in 1996 by father-and-son team Don St. Pierre, Sr and Don St. Pierre Jr, with Suntory buying a majority share in late 2009. St. Pierre, Jr formerly left the company two years ago. In an increasingly crowded wine market, ASC remains one of the top importers, according to China Customs stats.
Sotheby's Tops USD9 Million in Hong Kong
Sothesby’s most recent wine and whisky event in Hong Kong fetched just over USD9.3 million, reports the auction house. While Burgundy icons continued to bring in the big bucks, whisky packed a wallop, too, as the lot Macallan in Lalique Legacy Collection sold for almost USD990,000.
Twelve-packs of 1990 Henri Jayer Cros Parantoux and 1961 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle both sold for USD157,000 while a bottles of 1978 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti topped USD102,000. Five magnums of Château Latour 1961 fetched nearly USD71,000. Nearly all of the top lots went to buyers based in Asia.
CHEERS Starts ‘Smile Or Else’ Campaign
The CHEERS wine shop chain used a very auspicious date--exactly nine days ago--to announce it will tweak its famous “CHEERS Makes You Smile” motto in order to promote more inclusivity.
“Not everyone is smiling,” explained a frustrated Claudia Massager, CEO of CHEERS. “I was in our Gulou shop last week and saw one customer frown and another with a blank face, and I thought to myself, what is wrong with these people!? Smile, damn you, smile! So I made a 218-point plan to force customers to act both naturally and properly.”
The campaign will start next week when each shop receives a giant red poster with the new motto, “CHEERS Makes You Smile—Or Else.”
Or else what?
“We Swiss have many ways to force people to follow our completely reasonable orders,” says Massager. “Have you ever seen a Swiss army knife? Also, we have fondue. Perhaps I will pour hot cheese on the bottoms of these frowners. How will they like that!? Answer me now!”
Massager says repeat non-smilers will be forced to return their CHEERS VIP cards and drink a shot of that horrible Swiss whisky the company somehow got through China Customs quality control a few years ago.
“Then we will kick them into Beijing’s streets—where there are no smiles!” she adds.
Massager says smiling releases endorphins and that the best wine pairing for those particular neurotransmitters is a chilled Marquis Bernard off-dry bubbly. Find your local CHEERS shop here and give it a try.
And if it isn’t already abundantly obvious, this last item is an APRIL FOOL'S JOKE. Check out more of Grape Wall’s past jokes:
Read Grape Wall here. Follow on Facebook here and Twitter here. And subscribe to the newsletter here. Reach Jim Boyce via grapewallofchina (at) gmail.com.
Note: The content of this newsletter is general information. I make no guarantee as to its completeness or accuracy. Use it at your own risk. In other words, I try hard to be accurate, but mistakes can happen, so reader beware! Also, I'm not a fan of spam and aim to send this newsletter only to people who signed up at Grape Wall blog or agreed by email or in person to receive it. If you did not request it, but are receiving it, something has gone awry. You can unsubscribe at the bottom or let me know at grapewallofchina (at) gmail.com. Cheers, Jim Boyce