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Import tariffs applied to wine have fallen along with China’s commitments under WTO accession.

The current import duty on bottled wine is 14%. Added to this are a further 10% consumption tax and VAT of 17%. All are applied to the CIF price,    giving an effective total tariff of 48.2%.

 ICD (0.14) + VAT (0.17) + CT (0.10) + ICD (0.14) x VAT (0.17)

Total Import Tax rate = ---------- =
1 – CT (0.10)

Bulk wine attracts an import tariff of 20%.
 Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) Market Intelligence > China   - Contact for more information. Share

Hong Kong Reduce Wine Duties from 80% to 0%: Beer, liquor, other than wine, with an alcoholic strength of not more than 30% by volume measured at a temperature of 20 C 0% duties and Wine 0% duties - for complete information: United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) GAIN Report#1 Hong Kong Imports of U. S. Wine Expected to Set New Record (Report#HK9013)  and Report#2 Export Guide Annual (Report#HK9022) Contact for more information.

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Wine Exports to China via Hong Kong

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redwinedonotbottomup.jpg (943206 bytes) 別以葡萄酒干坏 Red Wines are not meant to be bottom up (click on the picture to view the full size article)

Previous Articles 2009 - June 2012

April 27 2014

Tough year as mainlanders lose taste for top-shelf wines By Amy Nip 

Despite drop in sales, Vinexpo trade fair chairman sees lots of room for growth - Vinexpo chairman Xavier de Eizaguirre says mainland wine sales have reached a plateau this year.

Exhibitors at a wine fair that opened in Hong Kong yesterday expect a tough year ahead for the mainland market, especially for top-end wines whose sales are being dragged down by anti-corruption measures.

More than 1,300 exhibitors of wine and spirits - including 250 newcomers - have joined the Vinexpo at the Convention and Exhibition Centre this year, up from 1,000 at the last biennial exhibition in 2012.

Space for the three-day fair running until tomorrow has increased 50 per cent from the 2012 event, and now covers two floors instead of one.

Despite the larger presence, exhibitors have reservations about sales this year.

Bordeaux Vins Selection, which manages 200 Bordeaux brands, said it had seen less demand for top wines.

"We are ready to adjust prices by 10 to 20 per cent," representative Bernard Pujol said.

His gloomy forecast came as mainland customs reported declining wine imports in the first three months this year. Total volume fell 20.7 per cent year on year to 88 million litres. Total value was down 26.2 per cent to 3.09 billion yuan (HK$3.88 billion).

It was a further deterioration from last year, when wine imports dipped 6.8 per cent in value to US$2.4 billion, and 4.6 per cent in volume to 410 million litres. The average import price per litre was US$5.90 - also slightly lower than two years ago.

Another Bordeaux importer, Advini, is focusing more on sales of affordable mid-range wines - priced at 98 to 188 yuan - to families for everyday consumption. As for the priciest ones, it will be a year of brand building instead of fast sales, said regional sales manager Andy Sun.

Other regions are aiming to maintain current sales or limited growth, saying they are not as affected by anti-corruption measures on the mainland.

Italian Trade Commissioner Paola Guida said imports to Hong Kong had increased this year as the country benefited from people shifting from expensive to more affordable wines.

Spanish dealer Gonzalez Byass expected growth of about 5 per cent on the mainland this year, down from double digits in the past few years.

Mainland wineries Dynasty and Grace Vineyard expected the market to stabilise.

Dynasty winemaker Lv Wen said mainland wines remained competitive in the mid to low-end market. The brand plans to launch low-end brandy this year.

"This year we have reached a plateau," Vinexpo chairman Xavier de Eizaguirre said of the mainland market. But he was upbeat about long-term development. "We just reached the tip of an iceberg [in demand]."

According to a study by International Wine and Spirit Research, Chinese wine consumption is expected to rise by one-third in the five years to 2017.

De Eizaguirre declined to say whether he believed growth would pick up this year or next, but said there was plenty of room for growth. Wine consumption per person in China was about 1.2 litres a year, compared with more than 10 litres in the United States and 50 litres in France, he said.

He added anti-corruption measures had hit the top end but the growing middle class would support mid-range wines. The fair started in Bordeaux in 1981, and eight Asian fairs have since been held. Six, including the latest, have been in Hong Kong.

April 8 2014

China becomes world's second biggest consumer of high-priced wine By Mischa Moselle

Country also the biggest consumer of red wine, and industry sees sales continuing to grow - Red wine counts for 90 per cent of consumption in China as white lags. Propelled by a love of "lucky" red wine, China's drinkers are now the second-biggest consumers of high-priced wine in the world, new figures show.

Tipplers on the mainland and in Hong Kong, who are lumped together in a report prepared for international wine show Vinexpo, trail only the US in their willingness to spend US$10 or more on a bottle of wine.

The new development comes on the back of a triple-digit percentage growth in the overall mainland wine market - now fifth in the world - and its rise to become the top consumer of red wine last year.

But the industry expects that growth to be trimmed severely in coming years as the market matures amid Beijing's crackdown on extravagant spending.

"We cannot expect the market to have more three-digit growth, but we can still expect the growth to continue," Vinexpo chief executive Guillaume Deglise said.

He also noted the impact of the government crackdown, saying it caused a pause in spending last year "People are afraid of the new laws and regulations," he said.

While China, including Hong Kong, is the fifth largest wine consuming country in the world, the pace of growth has been slowing lately. In 2008-2012 consumption grew by 134.3 per cent but is forecast to grow by 33.8 per cent from 2013-2017.

But China's spending on more expensive wines surged almost 430 per cent from 2008 to 2012 and is still expected to grow almost 60 per cent to 46 million cases by 2017 in a global trade tipped to be worth US$183 billion a year.

Britain's drinkers are third among the big wine spenders followed by France and Canada.

In a development that turned traditional views of the wine market on their heads, China topped France last year to become the world's largest consumer of red wine, knocking back 155 million nine-litre cases. Drinkers in France put away 150 million and Italians 141 million.

China is predicted to keep the number one spot at least until 2017, with consumption predicted at 207 million cases for that year. Some 90 per cent of wine drunk in China is red.

Deglise says red wine's reputation for being healthier than other wines and red's status as a colour representing good fortune "are really helping the red wine category". But he says that could change as China's collective palate matures: countries that have only recently discovered wine tend to focus on red and explore white and rosé later.

"China is like Japan 20 years ago. The Japanese started with red but the market is now very mature with a huge space for white, rosé and sparkling," Deglise says.

In Hong Kong the market for wine priced at US$5-US$10 is predicted to grow slightly faster than wine priced at US$10 or more and the market for wine under US$5 is predicted to shrink by 29 per cent.

The city's drinkers continue to drink wine from the two traditional sources of France and Australia but exports from Italy grew by 132 per cent, the US by 79.5 per cent and Spain by 58 per cent from 2008-2012.

March 30 2014

Australian and New Zealand wines make a good pairing with dim sum By Janelle Carrigan

Imagine a freshly steamed prawn and pork siu mai or a plump har gau. Perhaps the delicate dim sum is enlivened with just a touch of chilli oil.

Now, imagine a glass of chilled pinot gris from New Zealand. On its own, the light white wine might taste a little sweet but when paired with the juicy dumplings and chilli, the sweetness is toned down, replaced with the aromatic flavours of pomelo or jasmine.

While dim sum is traditionally enjoyed with tea or beer, in Australia it is creating a happy alliance with wine. In Melbourne, the arrival of one of Hong Kong's leading chefs is strengthening that relationship.

Last year, Michelin-starred Tsang Chiu-king quit as executive chef at Ming Court, Langham Place hotel, to run Crown Melbourne's restaurant Silks. Tsang is continuing his innovative approach to traditional Chinese dishes while adapting, at times, for Australians.

"The Australian taste is for lighter, fragrant dishes," says Tsang. "But they also enjoy the tradition of Cantonese with richer, darker elements."

The marriage of dim sum and wine was recently explored at a Melbourne Food and Wine Festival lunch at Silks. Tsang and his team prepared the dishes and Chris Crawford, Crown's director of wine, selected the vintages.

In Hong Kong, the complex red Bordeaux is a popular mainstay, particularly for high-end dining. But Australian varieties are gaining attention at more relaxed meals. At the Silks lunch, there were sharp Australian semillons, smooth French white Bordeaux and even a peppery Australian shiraz.

It resulted in some surprises. "What we tried to show is the versatility of dim sum," says Crawford. A steamed quail dumpling with duck liver, Chinese mushrooms and pine nuts was slightly gamey and very tender. A mild New Zealand red, the 2012 Ra Nui Pinot Noir, enhanced the delicate meatiness of the dumpling.

Chef Tsang personally enjoys dim sum that's pan fried or deep fried. One of the standout dishes at the lunch was the perfect combination of the two - a crunchy taro puff with wagyu and goose liver paste. It also worked with the smooth but well-rounded Victorian Tyrrell's 2012 Lunatiq Heathcote Shiraz - one of Tsang's favourites.

Crawford emphasised that the wine pairings were simply a helpful guide to enhancing dim sum flavours. "With wine, we are very lucky, especially in Australia, to have so much versatility in terms of regions, varieties and styles," he says.

One of the basic principles is matching the intensity of the food with the wine. Dim sum is delicate with complex flavours. Off-dry wines can help carry those flavours without overpowering the dishes.

Riesling, in particular, is ideal for dim sum. It works well with shellfish-based dishes, says Crawford, such as prawn and lobster. "Although I think lobster goes with everything," he says.

Chardonnay can also be versatile and pairs particularly well with prawns and chives. The old heavy-handed big Australian varieties have been replaced with much brighter, complex styles. "Right now, it's the most exciting variety in Australia," says Crawford.

At lunch, the mildly buttery Tyrrell's Vat 47 Hunter Chardonnay could meet the weight of the fried dim sum.

A sophisticated chardonnay, with a relatively high acidity, "can even cope with duck or just firm white-fleshed fish," says Crawford.

With dim sum often a brunch or lunch meal, heavy wines or ones high in alcohol are usually avoided. So drier rosés are an ideal choice, says Crawford: "If you like white, if you like red, it's the best of both worlds. In the heat, you want something with a bit of tannin, but you want something quite cold."

The pan-fried and deep-fried dim sum were a perfect match with a sharp Chateau de Sours rosé from Bordeaux. It's a pairing that surprised Tsang, who likes delicate plummy pinot noir from Victoria's Yarra Valley. A layered Trout Valley 2012 Pinot Noir from New Zealand complemented a seemingly simple but complex duck ravioli served in duck stock. Its hints of black truffle brought out the mild spiciness in the wine.

While there are guidelines for drinking wine with dim sum, be open and be willing to try new things, says Crawford. "At the end of the day, it is just a glass of wine, and you're with friends and family and having a great time. I think that is the most important thing," he says.

January 13 2014

Wine opinion: are the Chinese really the world's biggest drinkers? By Mischa Moselle

Mainland buyers are said to be driving global consumption of wine, but China is only the world's fifth-largest market. A recent report by Morgan Stanley, predicting a shortfall in global wine production, says that the US and China are "the main drivers of consumption globally".

We've heard that often, but is it true? In fact, China is only the world's fifth-largest wine market.

Mainlanders are also often said to be driving the world market in spirits as well, propelled by the popular image of businessmen downing brandy at convivial banquets. The British government and delegations from the Scottish parliament have successfully lobbied the Chinese government into giving Scotch legal protection - if it says Scotch on the bottle, the contents must be made in Scotland.

Clearly, British politicians thought that looking after their constituents was a high priority, but are the Chinese really driving growth in the world's drinks industries? The latest figures seem to suggest not.

Whisky exports are certainly important to Scotland, making up £4.27 billion (HK$54.31 billion) of the £5.31 billion in food and drinks exported in 2012, according to official figures. But China accounts for only £71.5 million of those sales, despite an increase in sales of 70 per cent over the 10 years from 2002. It may surprise you to learn who is drinking all that Scotch, across the several hundred brands produced by just 100 distilleries.

The same 10 year period saw exports to the United States rise to £758 million, an increase of 150 per cent, but it is the French who have the real thirst for Scotch. The Americans drink the expensive stuff but the French are the largest export market by volume, growing to around 55 per cent to £434m in the decade to 2012. Clearly, they have more economic woes to drown, something that may also account for the category's good showing in Spain.

In fact, China is not even the largest market in Asia. Singapore takes that honour, although much of what they import is re-exported to China, Taiwan and South Korea.

Cognac distillers also have their eye on the China market, which is not surprising given the market grew by 55 per cent from 2007-2011 and is expected to grow even more in the next five years. The leading importer of cognac in the world is, again, the United States, which imports more than double the volume imported by China.

The figures, however, don't take into account the impact of the mainland government's restrictions on extravagant consumption at state events, which could put a significant dent in imports.

Even though wine drinking is declining in Europe, the continent still accounts for the vast bulk of world consumption at just over 63 per cent. US consumption has increased to just under 22 per cent.

For all the buzz about wine hubs and the rise of the middle classes, consumption across the whole of Asia accounts for just 9.2 per cent of the world total.

It is, however, undeniable that many well-heeled mainland and Hong Kong wine lovers have been buying up large amounts of Bordeaux and Burgundy, and even the vineyards themselves. And Hong Kong is the largest auction market for these wines and regularly hosts record-breaking sales.

And it's also worth remembering that these wines were expensive well before anyone in this part of the world had any interest in them.

December 5 2013

Wine opinion: why some aromas are better left out of the bouquet By Mischa Moselle

The recent isolation of certain bacteria and yeast as responsible for terroir - the evocation of a sense of place in the flavour of a wine - is another apparent triumph for the application of science to the art of winemaking.

It is tempting to believe that modern winemaking techniques and an advanced supply chain mean that it is difficult to buy bad wine these days. But while science advances, it is not clear that human nature does.

Unscrupulous winemakers still don't clean their equipment properly, and use bad fruit. So, as the saying goes, "rubbish in, rubbish out." But this wine still has to be sold.

Cork taint is the most famous of wine faults, but research into producing cleaner corks has reduced the incidence of this dramatically in the past decade. Using other closures eliminates the problem altogether. But as Penfolds' chief winemaker Peter Gago once told me, the condition of the wine becomes a great record of its storage.

It takes a lot of effort to ensure that wine stays at optimum temperature during transit and storage, and it's not an effort that everyone in the wine industry is willing to make.

Banana, a flavour I most often find in generic white wines, most recently in glasses of chardonnay from Australia and Italy, can be the result of dirty equipment in the winery.

It's also a possible product of cold fermentation, the process by which winemakers in warmer countries try to mimic the ambient temperatures of wine-producing regions such as Alsace or Germany. If that process goes wrong, the yeast can produce hydrogen sulphide, also known as sewer gas. Lovely.

The banana flavour is one that is sought out by Japanese sake makers, but I doubt it's a flavour we want in our wine.

Alsace riesling can have this flavour, but that means it is being drunk too early, and would have developed some spicy characteristics if left.

Even well-intentioned winemakers using hand-picked fruit can't guarantee perfection in every bottle. I was recently lucky enough to attend a wine dinner hosted by Bordeaux Chateau Malartic-Lâgravière.

An evening of good wines was interrupted by the opening of a bottle containing the yeast Brett, or Brettanomyces bruxellensis, which imparts a flavour called saddle leather, or even less appetisingly, horse's sweat. This is an interesting fault - it used to be so common in Bordeaux that winemakers trying to imitate the style would make wine with the flavour.

The yeast was identified more than 100 years ago, and scientific advances have reduced its presence. But, so far, it remains ineradicable.

I also recently tried a glass of rosé from 2010. Although the bar owner refused to believe me, this wine was over the hill. It was lifeless, dull and flavourless. I had tried it because I was surprised to see a rosé that age on a wine list. There are a few rosés made for ageing, some successfully, others less so.

I once tried one that was said to take its tannins from the stalks it was pressed with, and had a flavour of acacia. That leaf is the predominant diet of giraffes and, like bananas, is not a sought after flavour in wine. The flavour of acacia may not be a technical fault in a wine, but it makes that rosé a bad example of the type.

Surely no restaurant group or supermarket buyer would voluntarily put rubbish on the shelves. Voluntarily is the key word here. If you want to sell premium brands, you're going to be selling the generic wine, bananas and all.

November 21 2013

Washington wines gain ground By YU WEI in San Francisco

As California winemakers are fighting tooth and nail to export more product to the lucrative Chinese market, their counterparts in nearby Washington State are doing the same. Brian Carter, owner of Brian Carter Cellars and one of the top winemakers in Washington State, just returned home from ProWine China, a three-day international trade fair for wines and spirits in Shanghai that had 570 exhibitors from 30 countries.

"Our hope was to try to find more regional distribution," said Carter, adding that the other goals for his trip were to teach buyers and the press about Washington State and it's wines as well as do a little self-educating about the China market.

Carter's winery has so far shipped three orders to China. "One was not a Brian Carter Cellars label but a custom project. The other two were within the last year with our current importer GIYA," Carter said. "China is our most successful and promising export market at this time," he added.

About 14 wineries from Washington State showcased their vintages to more than 7,000 trade visitors at the Shanghai fair, all hoping to increase awareness of Washington State wines and build relationships with key importers and buyers in China.

Steve Griessel, owner of Washington-based Betz Family Winery, said the event was productive. "We were able to meet many excellent wholesalers and we were excited about the reception our wines received," Griessel said.

Currently, his company sells wines in seven international markets and this was his first time venturing into China.

"We believe China will become a very important export market for Washington wines and Betz Family wines in the future," he said. "It is exciting to see how Chinese consumers are embracing wines from around the world."
As the nation's second largest premium wine producer after California, Washington wine exports to China totaled an estimated 14,051 cases in 2012-13, a 175 percent increase from 2008-09, when exports to the market were 5,094 cases, according to Seattle-based Washington State Wine Commission.

"While the Washington State Wine Commission's export program has existed for 15 years, focus on the Chinese mainland as a key export market did not begin until 2008," said Michaela Baltasar, spokesman for the commission. "Emphasis on the market continues to grow, and the Chinese mainland currently ranks 5th for reported Washington State wine exports in 2012-13 — behind Canada, Japan, Germany and Denmark."

US wine exports, 90 percent of which come from California, reached a record $1.43 billion in sales last year. The Golden State has also enjoyed a more established presence in China. However, Baltasar said California's export presence is partly due in large part to the export of value wine — lower-priced product from large wine companies.

"Washington, on the other hand, is characterized far more by its small, family-run, boutique producers," Baltasar explained. "Our goal is not to equal California's imports in terms of numbers, but to increase awareness of and demand for Washington State wines, particularly among buyers who are interested in premium products from exciting, up-and-coming regions."

Toward that goal, Baltasar said the state has participated in several wine shows in China, conducted seminars and tastings in a few Chinese cities and invited Chinese importers to visit Washington wine country.

"Education is essential," she said. "Many Chinese buyers and certainly consumers are not aware of Washington State wine. The more we can increase awareness of the high-quality, critically acclaimed wines from Washington, our unique territory and the stories of the dedicated, down-to-earth people who make our wines, the more success we will see in the Chinese market."

"China is a relatively new market for Washington State, but one that is very important to us," She added.

As Washington's largest export market, China imported a record $14.2 billion worth of goods from the "Rainland" last year, making Washington the number one exporter to China of all US states.

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, who is on his first trade mission to China through Nov 19, is also making sure that promoting the state wine would be one of the major focuses of his trip.

"This was a successful trip for Washington wineries," said Joe Bippert, management analyst at Washington State Department of Agriculture who led the delegation to Shanghai.

"Washington wineries have provided wine for several events, including a reception at Ambassador Gary Locke's residence, a reception at the House of Roosevelt on the Bund which featured Washington wine and agriculture, a lunch briefing with USDA Agricultural Trade Office that had briefings from Web2Asia and TMall, and also a reception at the ASC wine residence," Bippert said.

"All of these events had importers, traders, and government trade officials from both the United States and China," he said. "This provided great exposure and networking for Washington wineries."

Oct 2 2013

Wine opinion: buyers prefer the personal touch By Debra Meiburg and Sarah Heller

Hong Kong's high internet penetration statistics (74.5 per cent of the population are internet users), and its shopping fetish, are enough to make the rash e-entrepreneur salivate. But we say, "Easy, tiger, let's take a closer look at the data."

While Hong Kong often gets lumped in with the mainland as a sizzling gypsy of online potential, anecdotal evidence has always suggested that isn't quite so.

We recently conducted a survey of more than 500 Hong Kong wine consumers in partnership with the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine and Spirits Competition to better understand what makes buyers spend, and what leaves their credit cards cold.

A substantial majority of those surveyed (67 per cent) said personal recommendations were the purchasing cue to beat all others, including the media, wine education, and even social media. What we need is a careful hand sell and we often only purchase online after we've met the seller in person.

Only eight per cent of those surveyed said they normally buy wine online, as opposed to 33 per cent who buy from private merchants, and 35 per cent who pledge their loyalty to specialist wine shops, where the personal recommendations can flow a little more easily.

In an arena where perceived authenticity is key to closing a sale (wine retailers we surveyed named "provenance" as one of the most valued aspects of their business, behind only price and staff relationships), the need to physically touch the product and see it with our own eyes is easy to understand.

In the absence of this capability, it appears that we are unwilling to trust somebody else to do the job. Compared with Japan, where both internet penetration (79.5 per cent) and e-commerce use (70 per cent) are high, in China trust has traditionally been concentrated within the family, with less trust extended to those outside of it.

To be fair, most Chinese societies do not draw a hard line between family and non-family members, and close family friends are often addressed as "Uncle" or "Auntie".

But it is rare that trust will be extended to those we've never met. Entrepreneurs bumbling into the online space without building relationships first are generally putting the cart before the horse.

Even consumers aged 25 and under, who undoubtedly spend the greatest portion of their lives on the internet, have not been enthusiastic adopters of online wine shopping. They are actually outshone in this regard by their 26- to 45-year-old peers.

Whether they will mature into online wine shopaholics once they've had time to navigate the wine world remains to be seen.

But why is Hong Kong less wine e-commerce-friendly than our neighbours to the north, who presumably have even fewer historical reasons for believing in the kindness of strangers?

There are some companies making inroads into the market, but nobody has dominated the market the way has on the mainland.

The lure of an attractive physical environment would seem to be the only way that bricks-and-mortar retailers could hope to compete with online services.

But the retailers we surveyed all ranked "environment" as the least important aspect of their shops in terms of attracting customers.

"Price", bizarrely, ranked first, although anybody with a basic grasp of mathematics, and an inkling of Hong Kong real estate prices, could tell you there's no way a bricks-and-mortar retailer can beat an online player on price, even if they also have a finger in the online pie.

The only answer we can come up with is the distinctively Hong Kong obsession with convenience; who has the time to wait for a delivery van when there's a shop conveniently around the corner?

Debra Meiburg is a master of wine

Oct 1 2013

California's Sonoma county emerges as a premium wine-growing region

Its complex, layered varietals show that California's Sonoma county has come into its own as a premium wine-growing region, writes Euan McKirdy

Williams Selyem Estate winery and vineyard. Fort Ross Vineyard and Winery in the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA is in a relatively isolated area and this has led to experimentation. 

It is unlikely that the first Europeans to reach California had complex, layered and characterful pinot noirs from small, boutique wineries on their minds. But some of the early settlers' frontier spirit remains in Sonoma county, the larger, more geographically diverse wine-producing cousin of neighbouring Napa.

While the latter makes up the bulk of California's wine exports, Sonoma's reputation - forged over a century and refined over the past 30 years - is held in equal, if not higher, esteem by many American sommeliers.

This year's crop looks likely to add to that reputation, being equal to that of 2012's record bumper harvest growers are reporting mid-harvest.

Given the different conditions that many of Sonoma's vineyards and wineries operate under, it is perhaps not surprising that many of the wines - from varieties as diverse as pinot noir, chardonnay, pinotage and that old California staple, zindfandel - exhibit amazingly complex and layered flavour profiles.

"Within the US, Sonoma county has a very high reputation, especially from the regions of the Russian River Valley, the Dry Creek Valley, for example, the coastal sites. Those are an easy sell - sommeliers love these wines," says Debra Meiburg, a master of wine, a Sonoma native, and one of Hong Kong's best-known wine authorities.

Sonoma's marine-influenced Mediterranean climate and balanced physical geography are ideal for growing grapes in some places, but more of a challenge in others. These attributes also contribute to diverse growing environments, so that a range of varieties are produced throughout the county, much more so than in most appellations.

Reds include not only pinot noir, but also cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah, and whites include chardonnay and sauvignon blanc.

"Sonoma is definitely more varied than Napa, which is moulded around one large valley and the microclimates on their hills on either side of the valley," says Meiburg. "Sonoma has many valleys, and many small mountain regions, all of which are intensely affected by the ocean."

The most notable difference between Sonoma and its better-known neighbour is in the soils and weather. Napa has much less coastal fog influence and that affects daily temperatures, making Napa slightly warmer. The larger county to the south has soils that are more volcanic in nature, as opposed to the tectonic seabed plate that makes up most of western Sonoma county.

Another frequently made comparison is with the climate of Burgundy, but the terroir is different. What lies underfoot leads to a pleasing diversity in Sonoma wines. Given the high levels of seismic activity in northern California, the soil is immensely varied, sometimes differing even from plot to plot, and vineyards here deal with everything from gravelly soil in areas such as Alexander Valley, to volcanic-laced, clay soils in Chalk Hill.

Vineyards found in valley areas are fertile and loamy; those at higher elevations deal with rocky and well-drained soils.

"I see the relationship as one of admiration and respect for what each other has achieved in the world of wine, viticulture and food," says Bob Cabral, winemaker at the prestigious and critically lauded Williams Selyem Estate winery.

The relationships between vineyard owners and winemakers, some of which stretch back decades and do not necessarily place profit as the priority, also allow for a deep understanding between grower and producer.

With an average climate not dissimilar to Burgundy, grapes such as pinot noir and syrah thrive, but the climatological differences found within the county mean that there are variations - in the warmer northern appellations of Sonoma, such as Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley - hotter-climate grapes such as the Bordeaux varietals and zinfandel do equally well. This gives rise to the description of Sonoma as "Europe in a county".

Chardonnay does incredibly well in northern California, and no more so than in the cool-climate areas of Sonoma. Ramey Wine Cellars produces some world-class chardonnays and winemaker David Ramey calls his wines "neoclassical".

"We utilise classic French cellar techniques on California's consistently ripe fruit. In general [Sonoma] is cooler because it's closer to the Pacific Ocean, so it excels in early season varieties like chardonnay and pinot noir," he says.

Most of the winegrowers and winemakers are family enterprises with relatively small parcels of land and limited case production. There are old families who have been growing grapes and making wine in Sonoma for decades - largely Italian names, such as the Seghesio Family Vineyards, which went from a bulk winery in the 1950s to ultra-premium by the turn of the century.

"The soul of Sonoma lies in its family-owned boutique wineries," says California Vintage's Susan Darwin. The wine bar is at the forefront of promoting Californian wine in Hong Kong, and Darwin is an ardent supporter of California's lesser-known wine-growing regions.

"In Sonoma there are countless opportunities to spend time with the owners and crafters of the wines that one will taste. These experiences truly bring the wines to life. To a great extent, I believe that this is due to the county's agrarian roots," Darwin says.

There is a great emphasis on quality and a spirit of independence among the winemaking community, says Fort Ross Vineyard and Winery's Linda Schwartz, whose vineyards make up part of the newly created Fort Ross-Seaview AVA.

"This is an area of independent farmers, away from the conveniences of modern living and used to solving problems," she says.

"In the coastal vineyards, the extreme climate requires a frontier spirit, perseverance and a healthy dose of the rejection of reality. Without the need for conformity or societal acceptance, there is a tendency towards experimentation, and some novel stylistic approaches have evolved as a result.

Fort Ross produces some excellent wines under very trying circumstances, where the strong winds, fogs and temperature variations of the Pacific coast, along with rainforest-like levels of precipitation, conspire to make life as hard for the winemakers as possible.

Producing single-vineyard, cool-climate estate-grown pinot noir, chardonnay and even a pinotage, these fantastic wines are the result of a labour of love.

To the northwest of this rugged place lies the Alexander Valley, and Silver Oak Cellars. The winery's Daniel Baron worked on Petrus' 1982 vintage, so it is safe to say that he knows a little about making a good wine, and he exhibits the same passion and intensity that so many of his colleagues in this part of the world do.

His winery's Alexander Valley 2008 cabernet sauvignon uses grapes from a variety of sources throughout the valley.

Aged half and half in new and once-used American oak barrels, the 2008 cabernet sauvignon exhibits a great tannic structure, and the grapes produce rich, full-bodied wine.

The wine region is one of the warmest areas in northern California, but a huge swing over the course of a day means temperatures can drop drastically, affecting the ripening process over the growing period and giving rise to this unique expression of the grape.

Now the world is waking up to what those in the county have known for decades. "I believe Sonoma county is on the cusp of becoming a household name, like Napa, around the world within the food and beverage and wine communities," says Williams Selyem's Cabral.

"Our goal is to produce food-friendly wines that represent the very best quality from specific vineyard sites." While Cabral's wines do not come cheap, they represent some of the best iterations of pinot noir to be found in Sonoma.

Like all good things, Sonoma's reputation - gently understated but full of quiet confidence - has taken time to flourish.

Sept 13 2013

Yao Ming launches new wine By Yu Wei in San Francisco

Former Houston Rockets basketball star and current California winery owner Yao Ming and Tom Hinde, president and director of winemaking at Yao Family Wines, clink glasses at the winery. 

As China's growing middle class continues to appreciate wine, former Chinese NBA star and now Napa Valley winemaker Yao Ming is eyeing a full-court press on this newly emerging group of wine drinkers by launching a new tier of wines on the Chinese market this week.

The new wine - called Napa Crest - is the latest product of Yao Family Wines, the company Yao founded in 2011, debuting Yao Ming 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for 1,775 yuan ($290) and the Yao Ming 2009 Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon for 6,125 yuan.

Napa Crest will be sold at 535 yuan retail. Though cheaper than its predecessors, it is still a little expensive for most Chinese pocketbooks.

"We have established Yao Ming's Signature wines at a benchmark in all of our world markets, including China," said Tom Hinde, president and director of winemaking at Yao Family Wines. "So we are offering a new tier of wines from Napa Valley consistent with a growing portfolio."

Hinde says Napa Crest maintains the outstanding quality that Yao is committed to.

"We want to show our consumers how Cabernet Sauvignon works in a blend from our distinct vineyards. This is something world wine regions try to project - authenticity and delicious place-based wines," he said.

Hinde said the company was happy with how their wines are selling in China. Many restaurants in Shanghai - Yao's hometown - carry his wines. The label sells throughout the China wine market, including Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Macau.

California, which accounts for 90 percent of US wine exports, shipped 18 million liters of its many varietals to China last year. The state's wine shipments to the Chinese mainland have been on a decade-long upswing, starting from a modest $3.4 million in sales in 2002 to $74 million in 2012, according to the San Francisco-based Wine Institute.

Linsey Gallagher, international marketing director for the institute, said that China is now the fifth-largest market for California wine exports. For the first six months of 2013, California's wine exports to China totaled nearly $34 million, up 7 percent from the prior year.

"We are thrilled with the success of Yao Ming's California wines from the famous Napa Valley in the China market. And we are very excited for the launch of this new, more affordable tier of wines within their brand family," said Gallagher.

"The strengths of California wines are the diversity and quality, as well as great value. The Yao Ming wines present two excellent examples of that," she added.

Gallagher said the success of Yao Family Wines has helped build awareness for California wines in China overall. She believes the new Napa Crest brand, with a more attainable price point, will encourage more Chinese wine consumers to try wines from California.

"What Yao is doing is a classic approach for many quality wineries, creating a second, more approachable wine so that more people can enjoy his wines," said Barbara Insel, president of Napa Valley-based Stonebridge Research Group, a research firm for the wine industry.

Insel said many other famous winemakers had done the same - in France, Lafite has Carruades de Lafite as its more affordable wine and Margaux has Pavillon Rouge. "The very best grapes are kept for the first label and the next group of very fine grapes is reserved for the second label," she explained.

"Chinese wine consumers have had very few opportunities to taste and experience California's fine wines. As they do, I am convinced they will discover that these are fine, handcrafted wines, made with care of the finest wine grapes and they will come to admire and enjoy them," she said.

Insel noted that what California winemakers have to do now is give more consumers the opportunity to do that.

"That is why it is so wonderful that Yao Ming is making his wine here and making more California wines accessible to Chinese consumers," she added.

Sept 9 2013

Chinese buyers are honing their taste for quality vineyards in France By Toh Han Shih

As they buy higher-value rather than mediocre French vineyards, wealthy individuals and companies are showing increasing maturity - Wealthy Chinese are buying higher-value wine estates in France, particularly Bordeaux, and companies are now buying too.

The quality and prices of French vineyards targeted by wealthy Chinese individuals and companies is rising, say industry players.

"Chinese are increasingly buying higher-quality vineyards. They are starting to understand quality," said Jerome Arbault, business development director of IFL, an international firm specialising in French properties including vineyards.

In September last year, according to reports in the wine trade press, Wang Yifang, chairman of Hebei Iron and Steel, a Chinese state-owned company, bought Chateau Bellefont Bellecier for an estimated €30 million (HK$306 million). The property included a 13.5 hectare vineyard plus 6.5 hectares of land, a 12-bedroom chateau, tennis courts and a swimming pool.

"It produces St Emilion Grand Cru Classe wine, which is of high quality," said Arbault.

In December 2011, Chinese actress Vicky Zhao Wei and her husband, Huang Youlong, bought Chateau Monlot, a seven-hectare vineyard with a chateau in St Emilion, for about €5 million.

"This estate produces good- quality wine," Arbault said. "Previously, Chinese firms bought vineyards of so-so quality."

For example, in 2010, a Chinese billionaire, Cheng Qu, and other investors bought five chateaus with vineyards in France, including Chenu Lafitte, according to the wine trade press. The latter produces wine of only average quality, said Arbault. "It appears they bought the estate for the Lafitte name."

In 2008, a Chinese firm owned by the Cheng family in Qingdao, Longhai International Trading, bought Chateau Latour Laguens, a 60-hectare vineyard in Entre deux Mers in Bordeaux, The Washington Post reported. The estate produces 160,000 bottles per year, and the wine was of average quality, said Arbault.

Most Chinese investors buy French vineyards with a view to expanding wine sales in China, Arbault observed. "That's the big interest in terms of money."

A bottle of Bordeaux wine that costs €2.50 to €3 at the French vineyard can be sold for €15 to €40 in Beijing, Arbault pointed out. China's anti-dumping probe into European wine imports has driven up orders from Chinese wine merchants who are betting on an increase in prices, the South China Morning Post reported earlier. Buyers of vineyards from China have not always received a warm welcome in France.

Last year, Louis Ng Chi-sing, chief operating officer of SJM Holdings, a Hong Kong-listed gaming firm controlled by Macau casino mogul Stanley Ho Hung-sun, bought Chateau de Gevrey-Chambertin in Burgundy, for an estimated €8 million.

"The transaction in one of Burgundy's top vineyards triggered an angry backlash from local wine makers," said Arbault. "In Burgundy, the vineyards are inherited and they don't like outsiders to buy the land, even from other parts of France.

"Burgundy is less open than Bordeaux. The backlash is not against Chinese per se. If the buyer is smart and can continue the business well, the seller will be happy."

Chinese people put a lot of emphasis on face, but French winemakers want even more face, Arbault said.

"They value their family tradition, not only money. Most of the time, they want to keep the name of their wine. They want to make sure the image does not deteriorate after being sold to foreigners."

Chinese companies are also acquiring French vineyards. Chateau Richelieu, a one-hectare vineyard-cum-chateau once owned by Cardinal Richelieu, the 17th century French chief minister, was sold to a Chinese luxury- goods company, Hong Kong A & A International Holding, in September 2009, The Washington Post reported.

In February 2011, Cofco, the largest Chinese state-owned food company, bought a 21-hectare vineyard in Lalande-de-Pomerol for roughly €10 million, with the intention of creating wine with the Great Wall brand; and in June last year, Bright Food, a Chinese state-owned conglomerate, acquired 70 per cent of French wine trader Diva Bordeaux for an undisclosed sum.

This was the first acquisition by a Chinese company of a French wine merchant, said Emmanuel Gros, head of China and Asia Pacific at Benoit & Associates a French cross-border mergers and acquisition advisory bank. B&A was appointed by Diva to facilitate the sale of Diva's majority stake to Bright Food.

"Since Diva was looking for a new majority investor to fuel its development in emerging markets, we thought a Chinese investor would make a lot of sense. On the other end, we knew that Bright Food, China's second-biggest food conglomerate, was seeking overseas opportunities to strengthen its sourcing of high-end wine," Gros said.

The acquisition had given Bright Food access to French wine at a wholesale price, which helped feed the growing Chinese demand for wine, said Gros. It also helped Bright Food internationalise its market, since half the turnover of Diva was in Europe, he said.

Diva's revenue was €30.1 million last year, its website said.

China is now the world's fifth-largest consumer of wine, according to International Wine and Spirit Research. Sales of wine in China rose 20 per cent, to 257 billion yuan (HK$322.6 billion), last year, research firm Euromonitor International said.

Chinese acquisitions of French vineyards are still a drop in the bucket. The number of French Bordeaux vineyards bought by Chinese buyers is around 40, while the total number of Bordeaux vineyards is around 8,000, Gros said.

Aug 29 2013

Vineyards pour billions into chateaus By Ju Chuanjiang and Zhao Ruixue in Yantai, Shandong and

Customers pick wines at a chateau in the Ningxia Hui autonomous region. Changyu has a wide assortment of vineyards in six regions across China, including Ningxia.

The latest was opened by leading winery Yantai Changyu Pioneer Wine Co Ltd in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region on Aug 12. The 630 million yuan ($103 million) Chateau Changyu Baron Balboa in Shihezi includes a 6,000-square-meter cellar, production facilities, a museum and a 37-hectare vineyard. It is expected to produce 1,000 tons of wines every year.

"Wine chateaus are the basic prerequisite for premium wines, so Changyu is building six chateaus in different grape-growing areas across China," said Zhou Hongjiang, general manager of the company.

Zhou said the Xinjiang chateau will be the company's wine production base in the western part of China.

"Chateaus are playing an important role in upgrading the structure of China's wine industry," said Wang Yancai, head of the China Alcoholic Drinks Industry Association.

"Chateau Changyu Baron Balboa has the ability to compete with European first-class chateaus. It won't be long until the chateau and the Xinjiang area gain the wine world's attention," Wang said.

The Xinjiang chateau is meant to be a tourist destination that will offer services associated with wine, such as experiencing wine culture and providing a venue for high-end conferences.

The company also plans to build a European-style town and a wine trade center at the Xinjiang chateau, with completion scheduled for 2016.

After four years of planting and cultivating grape vines, Changyu has 4,666 hectares of vineyards in Xinjiang.

The abundant sunshine and huge day-night temperature differentials result in grapes with more sugar content, making the area one of the best places in China for quality grapes.


Count John U. Salvi, the honorary president of the chateau, said that wines made from the grapes are competitive with New World wines, such as those from Australia and the United States.

The Xinjiang chateau is the company's fourth. The management of Changyu was inspired to build China's first chateau in Yantai in 2002 after an analysis of the wine industry in France.

There, more than 80,000 wine chateaus play an important role in France's fame as a global wine player, according to Li Jiming, Changyu's chief engineer.

Today, Changyu has a wide assortment of vineyards on 20,000 hectares of land in six regions: Shandong, Shaanxi and Liaoning provinces, the Xinjiang Uygur and Ningxia Hui autonomous regions, and around Beijing.

There will be six chateaus in six areas, with four already operating.

Chateau Changyu Moser XV in Ningxia and Chateau Changyu Reina in Shaanxi province are scheduled to open to the public in the coming months.

"Wines made in the six chateaus cater to a wide range of consumers. Some can be served at home, while others are suited to national banquets, and some exquisite varieties can be collected as an investment," Li said.

"Chateau wines are Changyu's most competitive products, boasting annual average sales growth of 45 percent since 2008," said Sun Jian, deputy general manager of Changyu.

Li, the engineer, said Changyu has chosen to join forces with the world's most prestigious chateaus to build its chateaus in China. The idea is to ensure premium quality.

Chateau Changyu-Castel was built in 2002 in cooperation with the Castel Group of Bordeaux, France.

Five years later, with the participation of vintners from France, the US, Italy and Portugal, Changyu spent 500 million yuan to establish Chateau Changyu AFIP Global in Beijing's Miyun county.

The same year, an ice wine chateau in Liaoning province was built in cooperation with Aurora Icewine Co Ltd, the biggest ice wine company in Canada.

Chateau Changyu Moser XV has been jointly developed by Changyu and the Austrian winemaker Lenz Moser, whose family has run wineries for 15 generations.

Changyu chateau wines have been winning over European consumers. Last year, Changyu Jiebaina was put on the shelves of Waitrose Ltd outlets in the United Kingdom.

Although Waitrose didn't continue to sell the wine after the trial, a spokesman said that the Changyu Jiebaina was selling out "quickly, much faster than we expected, and we were thrilled with our customers' reaction to this new and unknown wine", according to wine publication Decanter.

This March, Berry Brothers & Rudd, Britain's oldest wine merchant, announced it will permanently stock four Changyu wines: Chateau Changyu Moser XV and three ice wines.

Changyu plans to expand its chateau portfolio by building a "wine city" in its home base of Yantai in 2016, where it will invest about 6 billion yuan.

Besides two wine and brandy chateaus, the "wine city" has a research institute, wine production center, a vineyard, a European-style village and an international wine trading center.


The number of chateaus in Yantai will reach 150 by 2015, according to the Yantai Vine and Wine Office.

Besides Chinese wine heavyweights like Changyu, China Great Wall Wine Co Ltd and Dynasty Fine Wines Group Ltd, alcoholic drinks maker Kweichow Moutai Co is constructing a wine chateau.
However, industry experts said building and running a chateau in China isn't easy.

"Chateau builders may face crucial challenges from domestic and foreign wine heavyweights as they don't have parallel advantages in grape growing, wine-making techniques and marketing," said Li Hua, professor at Northwest Agriculture and Forest University.

Last April, Domaines Barons de Rothschild, Chateau Lafite's parent company, teamed up with CITIC Capital Holdings Ltd, China's largest State-owned investment company, to build a chateau in Penglai, a city on the easternmost tip of Shandong, one of China's largest wine-producing areas.

The vineyard around the chateau will reach 50 ha, which can produce 20,000 bottles of wine in its first production year, set for 2016.

More than 90 percent of the wines produced here target the Chinese market.

Data from the National Bureau of Statistics show that the sales volume and net profit of domestic wine producers declined in the first half of this year.

Meanwhile, Chinese customs figures show first-half wine imports rose 20.9 percent to 140.6 million liters, and the value of imported wines rose 8.2 percent to 535.3 million euros ($713.34 million).

The declining demand for domestic wines is casting a shadow on chateau development in the nation.

For example, Beijing's Yanqing county announced in July that it had stopped work on 40 of the 44 chateaus it had planned to build for next year's 11th International Conference on Grapevine Breeding and Genetics.

Li suggested that any vineyard planning to build a chateau should construct something unique, instead of just copying overseas facilities.

Aug 26 2013

Xi's crackdown on cadres sees Hong Kong wine sales sour By Amy Nip

Value of re-exports to the mainland has dropped 27pc since president ordered cadres to curb their lavish lifestyle - Hong Kong traders say the mainland's fine-wine bubble has burst - for now - with the value of re-exports tumbling in the first half of the year. 

A crackdown on extravagance at official banquets on the mainland has battered Hong Kong wine traders' bottom line.

The value of the wine they re-export to the mainland has plunged nearly 30 per cent since President Xi Jinping ordered officials to stop their freewheeling ways.

"Business has been bad, bad and bad," said Marcus Chan Chun-wang, of Grand Cru Cellar International, which sells top French wines.

The volume of re-exported wine increased in the first half of the year but buyers are choosing cheaper varieties, leading to a drop in value.

At the end of last year, Xi announced "eight rules" on official behaviour to streamline bureaucracy and cut waste.

Provinces and municipalities have since rolled out detailed guidelines, some of which discourage liquor - especially pricey imported wines - at official banquets.

The Trade Development Council said the value of the city's wine imports in the first half of the year fell 3.7 per cent year-on-year to HK$4 billion in terms of value. Overall re-exports dropped 20.8 per cent to HK$775.2 million, with those to the mainland falling 27.3 per cent to HK$392.7 million.

Since Hong Kong abolished the wine duty in 2008, the value of wine exports - almost entirely re-exports - rose every year from 2009 to 2011. The first drop, 7.6 per cent, was recorded last year.

Local retail sales have also suffered. Sales of alcoholic drinks and tobacco dropped 21.9 per cent year-on-year to HK$2.65 billion in the first six months, according to the Census and Statistics Department.

It does not offer a further breakdown on wine.

TDC economist Wenda Ma said declines in wine exports in value terms reflected the lower prices rather than a slump in quantity.

Wine dealer Chan said mainland buyers now avoided any high-profile wine event out of fear of being labelled a big spender. "Top wines are being replaced by cheap alternatives at banquets - those where reporters are present," he said.

Some long-term clients continue to buy high-value wines while keeping a low profile, but it is extremely difficult for the company to reach new customers.

"You have to give potential customers a name card in the toilet, not in the open. It's like going underground to do business," Chan said.

With the slump in demand, some traders are selling off their stocks of high-priced wines - accumulated in the expectation of handsome profits - at cutthroat prices. "It's cheaper to buy French wines on the mainland or in Hong Kong than in France," Chan said.

Unlike local collectors who buy pricey wines for investment, a lot of mainlanders are drinking them at dinners, Wine Association of Hong Kong president Jacky Cheung Yiu-shing said. Therefore, liquor bans directly affected wine sales in the city, he said.

The Ministry of Commerce announced in June that it would look into the possibility of imposing "anti-dumping" duties on European wine imports following the European Union's decision to slap tariffs on imports of Chinese solar panels.

Some mainland importers were reported to have stocked up before a decision was made.

But such protectionist tariffs were usually aimed at the cheapest imports sold below "fair market value", Cheung said. Hong Kong, which focuses on high-end wines, would see little impact, he predicted.

Paulo Pong Kin-yee, of retailer-wholesaler Altaya Group, said prices of some trophy wines such as Chateau Lafite Rothschild fell by half last year.

But demand from other parts of the world, including the local market, had increased and prices had stabilised.

The company has seen increasing orders since the second quarter, as local buyers snapped up cases when prices dipped.

"As for China, the fine-wine bubble seems to have burst for now," Pong said.

The Liv-Ex Fine Wine 50, an index tracking the global price movements of 50 component wines, shows that the last 10 vintages of the five Bordeaux First Growths - Haut Brion, Lafite,Latour, Margaux and Mouton Rothschild - dropped from a peak of 445.4 in June 2011 to 297.1 in July 2012.

Wine prices bounced back slightly this year, with the latest July index at 314.3.

Hong Kong's ranking as a destination for Bordeaux wines in terms of value dropped from No 1 to No 3 - behind Britain and the mainland - last year, as Chinese wine lovers moved away from the priciest chateaus to more affordable choices.

Aug 23 2013

Is China really ready for Napa's higher-end wines? By Yu Wei in San Francisco

Visitors to a wine expo attend a tasting session for French wine in Beijing in June. Wine makers and exporters in California are trying to increase their share in the world's most populous and increasingly key wine market. 

As the newly affluent Chinese have become consumers of vintage wines, California wine makers are not only eager to tap into the demand, they're also eager to get a foothold in the fine wine market in China.

Family Winemakers of California, a trade association of more than 500 family-owned wineries, and Stonebridge Research Group, a leading research firm for the wine industry, have been awarded a $369,292 grant from the US Departmentof Agriculture to help sell California fine wines in China.

"Most of the wine producers in California are small, family-owned producers of handcrafted, fine wines - some of the finest wines in the world," said Barbara Insel president of Stonebridge. "Many wine consumers in China are not aware of these wines, of their history, exceptional quality or the people who have devoted their lives to making them.

"That is what we are trying to change," she said. "To help Chinese wine consumers, and those who import and sell wine, to learn about, experience and appreciate the fine wines from our family producers."

As leader of the project, Insel recently spent four weeks traveling across China. "We have completed our draft assessment and are awaiting approval by the USDA to proceed with specific plans for the next phase of the project, to be executed in the winter," she said.

The initiative is part of the Emerging Markets Program that launched by USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service, which "helps US organizations promote exports of US agricultural products to countries that have - or are developing - market-oriented economies and have the potential to be viable commercial markets," said Ellen Dougherty, deputy director of public affairs at the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service.

US wine exports - 90 percent of which come from California - reached a record $1.43 billion in sales last year, a 2.6 percent increase from 2011.

On the Chinese mainland, 2012 sales of American wine totaled $74 million, up 18 percent from the previous year, according to the San Francisco-based Wine Institute. The Chinese mainland is now the fifth-largest export market for California wines.

But even though the quantity is there, Golden State vintners are hoping the quality of their wines can be more appreciated in China.

To achieve that goal, one key component of the project is to develop a curriculum.

"Unlike many other producing countries, we have not had a large formal wine education program in China, a place where we have huge surpluses of wine we need to export," she explained, adding that she and her team have asked the Culinary Institute of America to adapt its 3-Day California Intensive course into a multi-level certification program for China.

"We are particularly interested in training wine educators who will then deliver the classes across China themselves, so we can reach many more people," Insel said.

The Chinese market is extremely price sensitive, but Insel believes the Golden State wine should be sold at fine wine prices because of its high quality.

"Industry experts in China described the tiers of wine in China as: up to $50, from $50 to $130 and $130 and above. Today, the market expects most California wines to sell in the lowest tier," Insel said. "Given the costs of making these handcrafted wines, it is impossible for them to sell at such prices. Many of these wines sell out at home at prices in the highest tier."

Although the mid-tier - $50 to $130 - is the least active segment of China's market, Insel noted it is a price segment that is economically reasonable for many of their wines.

"We have no illusions that this will be easy," she said. "The only way we know how to win a wine customer's heart is to tell them the stories - about handcrafted world class wines, about the people who make them, the places and the history and its intimate connection to the soil, the people and the place.

"We believe they will realize that these wines are not only great value but highly prestigious," she said.

July 27 2013

A knowledge of wine increases chances of enjoyment (By Debra Meiburg and Sarah Heller

For many people, the concept of wine education makes about as much sense as sex education - once you get the basic idea, all you have to do is go for it. That is, it doesn't quite seem like a valid area of study. But how then to explain the thousands of Chinese people who now eagerly sign up each year to attain some level of formal wine certification?

Certainly, the frantic spread of the wine trade through China accounts for part of it - those able to demonstrate a level of wine competency often find themselves at a distinct advantage in the job market. For some, it is even a ticket out of their second- or third-tier city. However in Hong Kong, more than anywhere, there has also been a rash of people from outside the wine world padding the coffers of many a wine school with their legal tender.

Although whether wine education is good business has already been answered by the market, those of us who haven't yet shelled out may wonder whether it's necessary. Wine can be quite simple, really: you like some, you don't like others. But as master of wine John Hoskins said in an interview with the Guild of Sommeliers, many consumers who claim, "I at least know what I like and what I don't," actually don't.

"They know what they like once they taste it," he countered, but unless that consumer is drinking the ever-consistent Yellow Tail, there's no telling whether that pleasurable experience can be replicated, because of vintage variation and even bottle variation.

Unless you stick to wines costing the same as any other beverage, taking a punt on a bottle that could contain anything from heavenly elixir to vinegar (to your taste) is an expensive gamble.

The key words in that sentence are "to your taste" - while wine education purportedly teaches us to evaluate wine objectively, for anyone outside the trade, it's much more to do with exploration, truly learning what you do and don't like, and how to find that again in other bottles. Otherwise, you may never venture beyond the first brand you enjoyed. Is that a problem? If that brand is Lafite, and all of your countrymen feel the same way about it (and have more cash than you do to support their habit), it could be.

The popularity of wine education in China is explicable. Newly wealthy Chinese wish to acquire the accoutrements of Western culture and the expertise that goes with it.

Cynics see wine titles such as CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine) and WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) as yet another set of letters for the freshly minted to add to their fold-out business cards.

But we in the industry have zero issue with everyone becoming more knowledgeable about our product, especially if they're learning the right things.

What we mean by this is that "wine education" need not be academic. Even those of us in the trade are unlikely to find opportunities to apply our knowledge of Portuguese terracing styles.

Context gives wine soul, but too much context can be soul-crushing.

The awful but wonderful truth about wine is that it's complicated - but like that other arena we've alluded to, a little bit of knowledge drastically increases the chances of success. What is important? Wine elements like acidity, tannin and alcohol; how you spot them and why they matter. This provides a foundation to understand your own preferences.

The most common grape varieties and their "flavour profiles" - that is, their typical levels of the elements above, and some characteristic aromas, will have you covered for the whole New World.

Learn a few classic European wine regions and their affiliated grape varieties, and you're a wine geek in the making.

Can all this be learned by curling up with a book at home? Perhaps, but the most crucial part of wine education cannot be: that is, wine is meant to be shared.

Debra Meiburg is a master of wine

July 22 2013

VIPs eye California's biggest winery (By Caroline Berg in New York

A group of Chinese VIPs spent an evening at a world-class winery in California on Friday to taste its wine products and consider the estate's viability as a wedding destination. The estate is Viaggio Estate Winery in Lodi, about 40 miles south of the state capital of Sacramento. It's one of more than 80 wineries in the region, has more than 100,000 acres of grapes and is the largest wine appellation in California.

"Lodi actually grows more grapes than Napa and Sonoma combined," local Lodi grape grower Frank Gayaldo said about California's more famous wine regions. "China is fast becoming potentially the largest consumer of wine in the world, so [this relationship] is just a perfect marriage."

Prior to visiting Viaggio, an eight-person wine buyer's delegation from Shenyang, China, spent time at the Lodi Wine and Visitor Center, where more than 200 wines were offered for tasting.

Gayaldo said the Lodi region excels as not only the state's, but also the nation's, top producer of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Zinfandel.

"One thing I'd have to say about Chinese consumers is that they are much more sophisticated [about wine] than what people often read about or perceive," Gayaldo said. "They're a very discerning group."

Exchanges between Lodi wineries and Chinese business delegates began in 2008. This will be the third time the US Agricultural Trade Office (US ATO) in Shenyang, China, and Gayaldo have collaborated to bring wine buyers from Shenyang to this California wine region.

US ATO Shenyang's mission is to assist American agricultural businesses in entering and succeeding in the northeast China market, including the provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang, which together represent the fastest-growing region of the Chinese mainland with a population of 110 million.

The Wine Institute, which represents 1,000 California wineries and affiliated businesses, has organized trade missions to China with California vintners for 13 years. In May, members of the institute and a delegation of 50 vintners from California traveled to Shanghai, Beijing, Ningbo and Hong Kong, for consumer events, tastings and educational seminars.

The activities were part of a continuing effort to spread awareness of California wines in China, a campaign now in its third year.

During a trade mission led by California Governor Jerry Brown in April, a new initiative called "California Wines Master Class" debuted in cities across China to educate consumers on wine history, climate, regions, varietals and food pairings.

California makes up 90 percent of the total wine exports in the US. Hong Kong ranked third among California's largest international wine-export destinations, investing $115 million in the state's wine. The Chinese mainland ranked fifth and accounted for $74 million in wine export sales in 2012, up nearly 20 percent from the previous year. Europe was No 1, with the European Union's 28 countries accounting for $485 million in sales.

Gayaldo said it can be more profitable for wineries to sell to China, as opposed to selling to a typical domestic buyer, because Chinese buyers usually want to invest in at least a 20-foot container's worth of wine. As the local grape grower has experienced, purchases from China may amount to a thousand cases per sale.

Gayaldo said he encourages Lodi wineries that are interested in selling to China to actually make the trek East to see the market for themselves. So far, our secret to success has been people-to-people relationships," Gayaldo said about the Lodi wine economy.

June 29 2013

More wine shops, but choice is still limited in Hong Kong By Debra Meiburg with Sarah Heller

Watson's dominates the local wine retail market, but other stores have recently started to challenge its position. 

Like many experiments carried out on a grand scale, Hong Kong's open wine market has certainly raised some anomalies. For instance, the casual observer trapped in one of Sai Ying Pun's traffic jams might have noticed a sign announcing the arrival of Massandra, Crimean wine.

No disrespect to that Ukrainian powerhouse, which has been producing wine for more than 100 years, but those who associate Crimea more with cannon fire than cabernet would be forgiven for thinking Hong Kong has become overrun with oenophiles.

There are now twice as many wine shop chains as there were in 2011 - In recent years, Hong Kong has been a veritable petri dish for wine retail - there are now twice as many wine shop chains as there were in 2011. But we are still wondering how representative a few unorthodox bottle shops are of the middle of the bell curve.

In Hong Kong, retailer, importer and wholesaler are usually different arms of the same company. This doesn't always result in drastic consumer savings, as even businesses that haven't invested in a bricks-and-mortar shop keep a marked-up retail pricelist for non-trade customers.

Many businesses settle for something in between, recasting 38th floor offices in industrial buildings as showrooms, with beckoning leather sofas.

While this network for the in-the-know is relatively unique to our market, and certainly worth exploring, where do you look for bottles that can't finance a sumptuous tasting parlour?

Street-level retail has been dominated for years by one name - Watson's - but more than a few challengers have sprung up of late. Sadly, most competitors contribute minimal diversity, and have identical lists that never stray far fromthe letter B.

But some wine shops are breaking the mould, sometimes by emphasising education - etc wine shops, The Flying Winemaker and Ponti Wine Cellar all have educational spaces in their outlets.

Technophilia and well-stocked wine dispensing machines are another draw, with Amo Eno and California Vintage serving the iPad generation. For the idealistic, philosophically driven selections are found at outlets, such as JustGreen Organic Convenience Stores.

Then there's the new kid on the block: online retail. Despite the global nature of the internet, strict international shipping laws and high shipping fees have kept online shopping local.

Once again, the players are mostly the same. So online retail's relationship with real life is more complementary than competitive. But with waived delivery fees and next day shipping ever more common, physical retail spaces with nothing to offer but easy access will feel the pinch.

With that in mind, we're excited to see what tactics shopowners will employ to keep the foot traffic flowing.

On our retail wish list: accessibly categorised shelves, either by overall style, or by occasion; wine selections that are changed weekly; more use of social media (have a great story about your new Alsatian riesling? Tweet it!); and seasonal promotions, like "Staff pick for summer junk trips".

Above all, we're craving sales people we'd like to pop a cork with. We know training and wages are a big investment. But we also know that there are already some absolute corkers out there (excuse the pun).

We have our list of hidden gems - care to share yours?

May 9 2013

Wines from New Jersey are overcoming prejudice By Kate Zernike - The New York Times

Wines from the US state of New Jersey are overcoming prejudice - Award-winning wines at Old York Cellars. 

Go ahead, make the jokes about New Jersey wine. They're so easy. Consider this, though: while you're sniggering about Tony Soprano and Snooki sipping spumante with notes of petroleum, others are leaning against a copper bar tasting an inviting vidal blanc.

Or maybe they're enjoying a cabernet sauvignon and the views of Sourland Mountain on a stone terrace, wondering what excuse they have to hold a party there. Or even in a roadside tasting room with a hint of ocean breeze outside, while inside, a knowledgeable young sommelier pours a rosé she declares "pretty".

New Jersey offers several reasons for excitement. Last year the legislature bucked the state's powerful liquor wholesalers lobby to pass a direct shipping law, which benefited New Jersey residents who until then could not send wine back home from wineries in other states.

This also opened up a market for New Jersey winemakers to ship their products. Several wineries have opened since the passage of the law. There are now nearly 50 wineries statewide, and with US$35 million in annual sales, New Jersey is now the seventh-largest wine-producing state.

For perspective, that's close behind Kentucky. But unlike Kentucky, New Jersey, especially the southern half, has ideal conditions for wine, with sandy soil, mild winters and a long growing season.

New Jersey winegrower s are confident they have something people will pay to ship. Their wines have won many awards, but the most buzzed-about was the "Judgment of Princeton" in June last year. Organised by the American Association of Wine Economists, it was modelled on the Judgment of Paris in 1976, when the upstart Californians edged out the establishment French at a blind tasting.

This time a New Jersey red came in third out of 10, following only a Mouton-Rothschild and an Haut-Brion. Among 10 whites, a New Jersey wine produced an hour's drive from Manhattan came in second, with two other Jersey wines straight behind it. The two French judges (the others were Belgian and American) chose New Jersey wines over Bordeaux.

I discovered New Jersey wine country last spring on a tour of South Jersey with the state Senate president, Stephen M. Sweeney. An ironworker who doesn't drink much wine, Sweeney had pushed for direct shipping as a boon to tourism.

He looked proud as a grape set to burst as he introduced me to Scott Donnini, who left his life as a lawyer for the Philadelphia stock exchange to start Auburn Road Vineyard and Winery with his wife and four friends in 2006. The vineyard reminded me of something I'd find on the North Fork of Long Island.

For more recommendations, I consulted Gary Pavlis, of the Rutgers Agricultural Experiment Station, who has run state wine competitions for years, as well as the Garden State Wine Growers Association. I also made a point to visit all the wineries that performed best at Princeton.

Not all of them can transport you to Bordeaux or Tuscany - along the trail, I found a tasting room across the street from a car detailing shop, and tasted chocolate wine. But in visits to nine wineries, I found lovely wines and breathtaking scenery.

Pavlis divides New Jersey vintners into two strains: those who left behind corporate careers to try their hand at winemaking, and those whose land was farmed for other crops, now hoping that wine will be more lucrative.

Heritage Vineyards in Mullica Hill falls into the second category, having long been a peach and apple farm - the rule of thumb, Pavlis says, is that cabernet sauvignon grapes thrive where apple trees do; both need long growing seasons and well-drained soil.

The fifth generation of the Heritage family turned the farm over to grapes in 1999, bringing in a well-regarded winemaker to consult. Its wines performed best overall at the Princeton tastings: BDX, its homage to Bordeaux, took third place, and the chardonnay was third among the whites.

The tasting room, with wood panelling and plates of Gouda set out on the bar, invites you to relax. There are more tables outside on a patio. The woman behind the bar introduced us to chambourcin, wine made from a hybrid grape that was developed in France for planting in the northern regions of the US.

In the small enoteca at Auburn Road that Donnini and his co-founders built next to their winemaking room, there are intimate tables, a wood stove, candles and a wall of windows overlooking the vineyard. Boards advertise the wines and a menu for Friday night dinners.

It hosts an open-mic night on Wednesdays and features local musicians every Saturday. The emphasis on music extends to the wines: the blush is named for Bruce Springsteen's song Rosalita, the blueberry wine Kind of Blue. The winery's biggest seller is the Blessington, described as "Welch's for grown-ups." (Welch's is a popular grape juice drink in the US.)

Next, we drove into the Pinelands to Bellview Winery. At the end of a sandy, secluded lane, this land was bought by an Italian immigrant in 1914 and became a bak choi farm dealing mostly to New York's Chinatown. The owner made wine in his basement, and in 2000 his great-grandson, Jim Quarella, decided to make a venture of it.

His success won it the winery of the year award in the state competition last year. The tasting room - in a building where Quarella's great-grandfather made his wine - is simple, with tables and a tile floor. The real charm is outside, with picnic tables and fire pits.

The staff obligingly guided us through the tasting menu - my husband later declared the petit verdot the best of the wines we tasted along the trail.

We end the day at Tomasello, one of the oldest wineries in the state. It has four tasting rooms in addition to the main one in Hammonton, which looks like a function hall from the entrance. We are told that its best-selling wine is Ranier Red, which, "tastes like jelly."

We set out with our children, four and six, in tow. I was not sure this was as wise as it was economical, but I was quickly reassured as we arrived at Silver Decoy, in the farmlands east of Trenton. The tasting room is not elaborate: a concrete bunker that served as a storage area when the land was a sod farm. But inside there was a wood stove, and the kids quickly found their way to the patio that opens up to the vineyards. They tossed a ball and chased a dog, which chased a tractor preparing the fields for planting, as we tasted wine and talked to Mark Carduner.

He started Silver Decoy with seven friends in 2001, planting chardonnay and cabernet franc grapes. The chardonnay took fourth place at Princeton, beating three out of four French wines tested.

We later headed to Hopewell Valley Vineyards. Turning off a rural main road north of Princeton, we followed a family on bicycles to a tasting room with terracotta floors and a copper bar.

The family of the owner, Sergio Neri, has long owned vineyards in Italy, and he wants to recreate a taste of Italy. Sergio's brother ships over sangiovese grapes, and he has begun planting barbera. This was the only place we found that variety of wine along our trail.

We headed along a roller-coaster road into the Sourland Mountain range, to Unionville Vineyards. The tasting room is in a red barn with a big window where you can look down on the big stainless-steel tanks in the production room. Even better, get a full glass and sit outside.

We pulled up to Old York Cellars, five minutes away, just before closing time at five - and were glad we had not decided to skip it. The tasting room is small - there are plans to expand it - but the views of rolling farmland from the stone terrace are stunning. Manhattan real estate lawyer David Wolin bought the land in 2008 and opened in 2010. "The biggest compliment we get is that this doesn't look like New Jersey," he says.

We raved about almost every wine we tasted. We had been buying a bottle or two from each vineyard, but from here, we took home three: a vidal blanc, a cabernet sauvignon and a port called Southpaw Red.

April 26 2013

Carrefour Spring Wine Fair 2013: Free booze and unintentional comedy in Beijing By Jim Boyce

My enthusiasm for the biannual Carrefour Wine Fair — held at the Shuangjing branch — has waned over the years. Fewer wine suppliers in Carrefour, more wine options throughout the city and the sense importers aren’t much interested in the fair but must participate as part of their obligations to the hypermarket have taken a drop of the joie de vivre out of the event. Plus, Carrefour does a half-ass job and doesn’t even provide spittoons.

Even so, if you seek something to do this Friday from 6 PM to midnight, there are worse ways to spend that time than going to the fair’s opening ceremony to drink free wine while listening to a cheesy brand and watching the unintentional comedy of wasted shoppers accidentally driving their carts into tables, shelves and each other.

As usual, I recommend bringing your own glass(es) rather than using the tiny ones provided by Carrefour.

For more details, see the Carrefour Wine Fair page. For an idea of what the fair is like, see “‘Prostitute wine’ and other tales”.

And if you can’t make it Friday, you can check out the wines Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 AM to 10 PM.

China, mass retail and Web to drive global wine sales - Wine sales in retreat at bars and restaurants By Paul Casciato

Mass retailers and the Internet will increasingly dominate the $164 billion global wine market at the expense of bars and restaurants, industry experts said on Thursday.

A report commissioned by VINEXPO, an international wine and spirits trade fair, also highlighted the dramatic rise of China as a consumer of wines - mostly its own. It topped all other countries in volume and value between 2007 and 2011.

"China is the champion," VINEXPO Chief Executive Robert Beynat said.

The report, "Distribution in the World and Expected Changes by 2020", showed that in the 18 countries that drink three-quarters of the world's wine, the key trends are rising mass sales and a decline at corner shops, bars and restaurants.

"We will probably see corner stores disappear eventually," Beynat told reporters, adding that they were in decline everywhere except China.

The report said the "off-trade", where wine is consumed away from the premises, accounted for 71.7 percent of all volumes worldwide. France's Carrefour and Britain's Tesco are typical of the big retailers that lead the way in most markets.

Just over three in four Chinese buy wine in hypermarkets, compared with two-thirds in France and 46 percent in Germany.

The fast-growing Chinese market also topped online sales, with 27 percent of consumers sometimes buying wine this way. Japan, Brazil and Britain were just behind.

The report predicted 47 percent of Chinese would buy wine on the Internet by 2020. Japan, Britain, Australia and Germany would also see a rising online trend, but Internet sales would stagnate in France and Russia.

Beynat suggested that the 2008 financial crisis and ensuing global economic malaise had made consumers much more conscious of value for money, hitting the "on-trade" in wines, bars and restaurants, where prices are higher than in stores or online.

Richard Halstead of Wine Intelligence, the research group that produced the report, said new innovations were emerging in the off-trade.

One is "consumer risk reduction", a strategy to classify wines more simply by taste, type and food-matching to make it easier for consumers to avoid mistakes when they buy.

Another is the drive to connect drinkers with winemakers - exemplified by Britain's Naked Wines, whose customers choose which makers to buy from and even how they blend their wines in some cases.

VINEXPO 2013 takes place in Bordeaux, France, from June 16 to 20. Featuring 2,400 exhibitors from 45 countries, it is expected to draw 48,000 visitors from 135 countries.

April 17 2013


While the 2012 vintage in Bordeaux has been hailed a “pleasant surprise”, there is expected to be low demand for the wines from Chinese consumers this year. Part of the reason the Chinese are pulling away from Bordeaux is due to the losses they suffered on the 2010 vintage. Many snapped up wines from the top châteaux when prices skyrocketed and were left reeling when the prices slumped soon after the wines were sold.

China is currently Bordeaux’s biggest market in terms of volume and second in value, but Chinese buyers are expected to steer clear of the 2012 campaign.

“They might come and visit us during primeurs week to taste the wines, but they won’t buy anything,” Bernard de Laage de Meux, commercial director for Châteaux Palmer told the drinks business.

Gary Boom, managing director of Bordeaux Index, agrees: “They won’t touch it. They’ve learned that the price can go down as well as up,” he told AFP.

But it’s not only the memory of the 2010 losses that is driving Chinese away from Bordeaux.

According to the Wine Spectator, Chinese President Xi Jinping has told the government to cut back on its entertainment spend, leading to a drop in demand for the first growths, which are commonly gifted among the Chinese elite.

“Ostentatiousness is politically frowned on in China now,” Hong Kong-based Simon Staples of Berry Bros & Rudd told the WS.

Wines over £500 have been the most affected by the new austerity measure, and in the last year, the majority of the wine shipped to China sells in the country for under £35 ex-château.

As the Chinese market matures and becomes more value conscious and less brand driven, consumers are no longer willing to spend the amounts the top châteaux are charging for their wines, which is forcing the region’s top producers to rethink their pricing strategies.

According to the WS, Chinese consumers are shifting their interest away from the Médoc and towards St Emilion, Pomerol and Lalande de Pomerol.

April 2 2013

China Foods to buy wineries in Australia and United States By Zhou Siyu

China Foods Ltd - the Hong Kong-listed consumer food arm of Cofco, the country's largest State-owned food conglomerate - will buy two or three wineries in Australia and the United States, in a bid to expand its wine sales while fending off competition from surging wine imports.

The acquisitions, aimed at locally renowned brands, will be worth at least $20 million and are expected to be completed within the next two years, China Foods' Managing Director Luan Xiuju said at a news conference in Beijing on Monday.

"I've visited the wineries. Now everything depends on the progress of our talks with them," she said.

Luan also said the company is in talks with two global leading wine dealers to become their exclusive brand representative and distributor in China. The company owns two overseas wineries: Chateau Viaud in Bordeaux, France, and the Bisquert winery in Chile. Sales from its wine import business were less than $15 million last year.

The company said the recent moves are intended to compete with foreign wine suppliers, which have eroded the market shares of domestic wine producers in the Chinese market in the last few years.

China's wine imports have seen a significant increase over the last seven years. The amount surged from fewer than 400 million liters in 2004 to 1,400 million liters in 2011, according to a report by Rabobank, making the country an attractive market for wine dealers across the world.

Among foreign suppliers, France continued to dominate China's wine market in 2012. From June 2011 to July 2012, China's imports of Bordeaux wine reached 63 million liters, industry data showed. The vast amount of imported wine has seriously affected the sales of domestic producers.

Yantai Changyu Pioneer Wine Co Ltd saw a dramatic decline in its sales of premium wines and reported an 11.1 percent fall in net profit to 1.7 billion yuan ($273 million) for 2012.
China Foods' wine sales, which account for a major part of its revenue, were also affected. The company's net profit slumped 41 percent from 646 million Hong Kong dollars ($83 million) to 382 million HK dollars.

Apart from further overseas expansion, China Foods said it also plans to boost sales by launching new entry-level products.

"The new products will be priced between 50 and 100 yuan, to make them affordable to common consumers. This is also in line with the relatively slower economic growth this year," said Luan.

Meanwhile, analysts cheered the planned acquisitions.

"Overseas investments will help the company gain more expertise as well as experience in wine production and winery management," said Ma Wenfeng, a senior analyst at Beijing Orient Agribusiness Consultant.

"China's market is growing very fast but is still less familiar with the wine culture than Western countries. The most important thing right now is to bring wine into the households as well as to people's daily life," Ma added.

March 8 2013

Hong Kong drinkers' tastes in wine maturing By Mischa Moselle

Founder of Vinexpo show says new poll reveals city is becoming more important as a hub, with consumption expected to increase - Hongkongers are drinking more wine than ever, and of a higher quality - proof that the city has become a mature, important international wine market, says Robert Beynat, founder and chief executive of the Vinexpo wine show.

The show is the world's leading event in the wine trade, with 2,400 exhibitors and up to 50,000 visitors expected to attend its June edition in Bordeaux.

In a run-up to the show, Beynat was in Hong Kong yesterday, releasing the results of an annual worldwide study undertaken by the International Wine and Spirits Research (IWSR) organisation. It predicts that from 2007 to 2016, consumption by volume will grow by 161 per cent while consumption by value will grow by 167 per cent.

Mainland consumption has risen by the fastest rate in the world, by 142 per cent from 2007 to 2011, to reach 1.4 litres per head. Worldwide consumption grew 2.8 per cent in that period.

Hong Kong was increasingly important as a wine hub, Beynat said, re-exporting 40 per cent of its imports, or two million cases of wine per year. By 2016, wine lovers worldwide will be buying US$183 billion worth of the beverage per year.

The survey results also highlight the unique characteristics of the Hong Kong and mainland wine markets.

Hong Kong has the region's highest annual consumption, at 5.3 litres per person - double the Japanese and Singaporean levels. But it is still dwarfed by French and Italian consumption, which is just under 10 times that level.

Mainland wine lovers bought 159 million cases in 2011, while Hongkongers bought 3.48 million cases, or 41.7 million bottles.

Mainland wine lovers bought 159 million cases in 2011, while Hongkongers bought 3.48 million cases, or 41.7 million bottles. Worldwide red wine is the preferred drink, at around 55 per cent of all wine purchased. But that preference is much stronger on the mainland, at 90 per cent, and in Hong Kong at 80 per cent.

The discrepancy with other markets is especially noticeable with sparkling wines, the fastest-growing category globally, expected to grow to 8.5 per cent of total consumption by 2016. Yet sparkling wines now account for just 3.6 per cent of total consumption in Hong Kong.

Beynat said the low consumption level was due to a lack of familiarity with the drink, and pricing that was probably aimed more at tourists than locals. "As Hong Kong gets richer and more developed, it will drink more champagne," Beynat said.

Growth in consumption is coming at the premium end of the market. That means, for Vinexpo and IWSR purposes wine that costs more than US$10 a bottle. In Hong Kong, purchases of wine at under US$5 a bottle are expected to decline by 20 per cent by 2016, while sales of wines priced at over US$10 will increase by 33 per cent.

The mid-range is tipped to grow 66 per cent. Worldwide, the under-US$5 segment is expected to grow by 3 per cent to 2016, or to 67 per cent of wines drunk.

Beynat said Hong Kong's preference for more expensive wines was a result of the 48 million tourists visiting annually and the lack of storage space in homes. Drinkers are more likely to consume wine at restaurants and bars than buy it retail.

Beynat said most of Hong Kong's wine shops were specialists, selling high-quality wines. "Distribution is different, meaning higher prices," he said.

March 7 2013

Wine opinion: winter in the vineyard By Jane Anson

"In the summer, I'm usually working with a small team in the vineyards," says Olivier Tregoat, a terroir expert and vineyard consultant in Beziers in the south of France. "On a typical day, we'll be taking readings of the vines, and checking shoot growth, water stress, and all the other indicators of how good a growing season we are having."

Tregoat enjoys working in a team, but he also loves being out among the vines in the winter months, often on his own.

"[In winter, I work] on mapping the terroir of a specific site, drilling holes, taking soil samples to compare chemical profiles, getting to know every contour of the land," he says. "It's during winter, when all is bare and there are no leaves and grapes to hide the swells and hollows of the vineyard, that you can learn to read a landscape. That's when you start to realise how terroir works its magic."

Driving through a wine region in winter it's hard to believe people care about what is happening in a vineyard. Most of the obvious work has moved inside.

But the five months of rest that vines get between the leaves dropping after harvest (in the northern hemisphere by the end of October or early November) and the first stirrings of sap rising in March the following year can be crucial - not only to the running of the wine estate, but to the quality of the wine.

For a start, there are plenty of physical jobs to get done. The winter months are when most wineries make decisions about which vines need to be pulled up and entirely replanted, and which areas of a vineyard need to be "filled out" with new vines. Then there is soil to be worked, cover crops to be used to monitor soil nutrient levels, vine training decisions to be taken, new pickets to be planted, new wires to be strung, and vine plants to be pruned so they are ready for the new shoots. These are the months when the "big picture" decisions are taken.

Ideally, vines like a relatively cold winter, when they can retreat to full dormancy and the low temperatures can kill off undesirable pests that threaten new growth. Vines are smart, and use energy (sugar) - stored in roots, trunks and branches during the growing season - to effectively protect against frost; but if temperatures drop below minus 10 or minus 15 degrees Celsius, there can be problems with injuries to the plants, even total loss in some cases.

Not that this has been a problem this year. No danger of frost damage so far (although no winemaker will relax until May. The time of greatest risk is not winter but spring, when new buds spring to life). Instead, much of this winter for the region's winemakers has been about navigating muddy fields, or pulling boots on and wading through water to reach vines in the lowest-lying sites.

Jean-Baptiste Bourotte, owner of two estates in Pomerol, and one on the outskirts of Saint-Emilion, describes a rainy winter: "Rain makes life more complicated. Now we are pruning the vines, and on the heavy clay soils at Chateau du Courlat in Lussac-Saint-Emilion, when you have to carry a kilo of clay under each boot from one vine to the other, it makes days very long. When cold and wind come into it, it's hard to analyse each vine and make the right pruning decision."

It's not just about the practicality of getting jobs done. The weather during winter also has an effect on the quality of the next season's wine production. Laurence Geny, a researcher at the Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences (ISVV) in Bordeaux, explains that you can estimate the moment of the next year's grape harvest by looking not only at the temperature during the growing season, but also the overall amount of sunshine that the vines receive between January and June. The amount of sun that a vine gets when it is bare affects the stored energy and the vigour with which it will attack its new growth cycle.

'The amount of rain that falls the previous summer, the number of days over 20 degrees during the winter months, and those over 25 degrees during the previous harvest, the amount of sunlight received even on cold winter days … all have an effect on the growth rate of the grapes for the next vintage," says Geny. "Knowing these things help us monitor the vines, and work out likely treatments needed during the growing season to keep things healthy. Winter is a great instructor for winemakers."

March 1 2013

Chateau Lafite loses its shine By Anna Healy Fenton

A photo taken on June 4, 2010 Chinese winery Chateau Junding in Nava Valley in Penglai peninsula, in eastern China's Shandong province.

It had to happen. Chateau Lafite, the Bordeaux worshipped by mainland Chinese wine collectors, has finally fallen from grace. Top wines plummeted in value by 12 per cent over the 12 months to September 2012, according to the Liv-ex 100 index. Chateau Lafite had such a stranglehold on the market it was actually the largest component of the index.

Now that its bubble has been burst by increasingly confident Chinese wine buyers who are no longer afraid to stray beyond Bordeaux, the other varietals are rising up the charts. If you need evidence of this, check the prices Henry Tang’s collection of burgundies achieve when auctioned in a week or two. A few years ago burgundy would not have attracted nearly so much interest, but with education comes confidence and collectors of all categories behave less like sheep and follow their own hearts. 

Property no longer king

That old paradigm about property performing best over time and bricks and mortar being the safest investment still holds good. Or at least one would think so, looking at Hong Kong’s soaring property prices and people’s willingness to sink millions into even daft projects like hotel rooms, with no guarantees whatsoever. But High Net worth Individuals behave differently to the rest of us mortgage slaves. Of course they have property everywhere, but according to China’s Hurun report, quoted before in this column, 64 per cent of mainland millionaires also invest heavily in collectibles. And I don’t just mean handbags and watches.

And the rich in emerging markets seem to choose to spend their cash on items they can enjoy, as well as banking on things will go up in value. The crash of 2008 seemed to mark a turning point and after that the over-concentration on financial markets ended and the super-rich started spreading their investment net to real estate and beyond.

The Knight Frank “Passion Index,” published next week but quoted in the FT, compares the performance of selected luxury items over a decade. Fine art, wine, jewellery, watches and classic cars are all assessed. Fine art is the new vogue “investment of passion”. The major auction houses in London, New York and now Hong Kong show the sky high prices achieved by art these days, but it’s only the best of the best that grabs attention, with price inflation heavily loaded at the Picasso end and not much below. 

Although spending on fine art showed the greatest jump last year, the sector overall recorded a 199 per cent increase over 10 years. The highest return on investment in fact goes to classic cars, at 395 per cent growth, according to the HAGI Classic car index. Except for gold at 434 per cent, cars have outperformed everything else. 

Coins are not bad at 248 per cent, stamps at 216 per cent. Perhaps surprisingly, fine wine only racked up a gain of 166 per cent in 10 years, showing that the best returns don’t always accrue from the most popular investment categories. Watches, for example, the second most popular investment, appreciated only 76 per cent over a decade in the passion categories. According to Hurun, the average super rich mainlander has at least six pricey timepieces. 

But still, figures show that only 4 per cent of HNWI’s net worth in stashed in collectibles. This may be due to their lack of liquidity. But still, cars, coins, stamps and art have equalled or outperformed prime property investment according to five global indices over one, five and 10 years. So maybe all those hours spent queuing at the Post Office for first editions when you weren’t a kid weren’t wasted after all. Go and dig them out.

February 25 2013

U.S. wine exports hit record, China sales up 18% By Tiffany Hsu

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Foreigners are still loving on American wine, especially if it’s from California, pushing U.S. vino exports to a record $1.4 billion in 2012. Wine shipments out of the country grew for the third straight year in a 2.6% boost, according to the Wine Institute, an advocacy group based in San Francisco.

Of the exports, 90% originated in California, home to well-known growing regions such as Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles and Temecula.

The European Union remains the top market for Golden State wines, with exports up 1.7% last year to $485 million. Sales to Canada, the runner-up consumer, boomed 14% to $434 million.

Chinese customers continued clamoring for California labels, despite a burgeoning home-grown industry. Sales in the Asian superpower swelled 18% to $74 million.

The state’s wines also enjoyed a 26% surge in South Korea, where exports last year totaled $16 million.

Separate reports this fall showed major wine producers such as France and Italy suffering through tough climate conditions that have damaged grapes. Global wine production last year was expected to shrink 6.1% to its lowest point in 37 years, according to the International Organization for Vine and Wine.

A wine shortage could strike this year, according to an executive from French wine cooperative Groupe Val d’Orbieu. 

February 22 2013


COFCO is planning to sell globally-sourced wine under its local wine brand Great Wall, as well as add to the group’s international investments with an Australian winery.

Speaking to the drinks business earlier this month, senior manager for COFCO Wines & Spirits, Shu Yu, said that the state-owned conglomerate is planning to release a range of imported wines under the Great Wall label – China’s largest local brand with sales of 10 million cases annually.

“We will announce that Great Wall is not only China, and we will make a French Great Wall, a Chilean Great Wall and an Australian Great Wall,” he said.

Continuing, he commented, “You will probably find these wines in the market next year… Great Wall will use global sourcing for the Chinese domestic market.”

COFCO currently has wineries in both France and Chile, having bought Château de Viaud in Lalande de Pomerol in February 2011 for €10, and the sizeable Bisquertt Vineyard in Chile at the end of 2010 for US$18m.

While the conglomerate does not have any production facilities in Australia, Yu said this was something COFCO was looking to correct.

“I think our next step will be Australia,” he admitted, suggesting that the Barossa would be the preferred region for a vineyard purchase.

Following that, he said that investing in the US was also planned.

Explaining the strategy, he said that COFCO were looking to tap into the growth of imported wine in China, which is rising at 20% year-on-year according to customs data, alongside a continued rise in domestically-produced wines.

Aiding COFCO in its growing domestic and imported wine enterprise is renowned consultant Michel Rolland.

“Rolland is now consultant for all COFCO’s wines,” Yu commented, “and you will find a winemaker selection by Michel Rolland under the Château Sungod label from Great Wall.”

Founded in 1949, COFCO stands for China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corp. The State-owned group is an importer and exporter of a grain, oil and food in China, as well as a major food manufacturer, wine and spirits producer, hotel operator, real estate owner and insurance provider. It is also the country’s biggest bottler and distributor of Coca Cola.

February 21 2013


The Chinese wine boom has been well documented. But are people being given a good deal?

CHINA’S RECENT surge in wine consumption is unique in many aspects. The rate of development, the thirst for first growths and dramatic upswing in the prominence and popularity of wine are all astounding. Yet lost in this rapid ascent is one crucial aspect that is the hallmark of any robust wine market: a fervent and dedicated consumer base.

People do buy wine and its status symbol is undeniable, but the current state of the wine market is full of pitfalls that prevent a large, dynamic group of consumers from forming a dedicated base. Here we look at 10 changes that could be made to improve customer appreciation of wine in China.


Current customs duties for wine add up to around 48% of declared value, plus the cost of shipping and insurance. The effect of a percentage-based tariff is to encourage the importation of cheap wine as the cheaper the declared value is the less impact the tariff will have on the wine’s final cost. This policy has been a boon for wine producers making €1-2 bottles (HK$10-21) of wine, but ultimately helps flood the market with cheap, barely quaffable plonk.

Switching to a volume-based tariff would discourage the importation of cheap wines and open up the market for mid-priced, high-quality wines. It would also open up an appropriate place in the market for low- priced, quality Chinese wines. Doing so would be a win-win as revenue would not be lost by the customs bureau, but the overall quality of wines would increase.


While the local market has grown enough to be able to thrive, often the greater barrier of entry to importing wine is the “quarantine” process through which up to three bottles of wine can be taken for “inspection”. While this is done under the guise of safety, it serves to corner the market of importation to a limited number of products and players. The policy not only puts a dampener on the above-board fine and rare wine trade, but also serves as an impediment for boutique producers to bring in a small number of bottles.

By streamlining and simplifying this aspect of the customs process, the market would be open to more products and producers and the diversity and quality of products available on the market would increase with this lower barrier of entry.


Mrs. Liu Ning from Huailai Amethyst Manor Winery

Part of a vibrant wine culture includes having a quality selection of locally made wines. China is currently stuck between two extremes. On the one hand there are the mass-produced Chinese wines, and on the other hand there are “high-end” producers making a wine that in quality is relatively indistinguishable from the mass- produced wine but that comes with a price tag upwards of US$100 (HK$778) a bottle and a decidedly fancier package.

Faced with a choice of bad cheap wine or bad expensive wine the customer is ultimately left drinking something that does nothing to enhance their appreciation of wine.


While there are certainly exceptions, the rule is that when putting together a wine list a new restaurant will be offered a cornucopia of “gifts” that directly relate to the percentage of representation products can have on a given wine list. Seventy percent of a wine list at a major new hotel can garner millions of renminbi in upfront cash, promises of events, wine refrigerators, the list goes on.

When the focus of the importers is to win a wine list based on kickbacks, it draws attention away from what wine lists should be about: great bottles of wine that will match well with the restaurants’ cuisine. The customer is ultimately the one who comes up on the short end of that stick.


With a few notable exceptions, almost all wine arrives in China via unrefrigerated container shipments. With shipping containers coming throughout the year and many crossing the equator on their way to Chinese ports, the damage to the wine is incalculable. Even after wine makes it into the country it is most often stored in dry warehouses or those with air-conditioned and not refrigerated conditions and ultimately leads to many wines not showing their true potential.


There is something magical about browsing the aisles of a well-stocked shop and actually feeling the bottle in your hands before purchasing it. Yet browse around most wine shops in China and all you will find is a replication of the same wines you find on the home delivery lists from local importers and thus also the same wines you will find on restaurant wine lists all around town.

The answer is for wine shops to set up their own distribution networks. While it does involve time and capital, the rewards will be worth the effort for both the shops and their patrons.


At the local supermarket where most Chinese people do their daily shopping, wine selections are paltry at best. Major importers and distributors up to this point have geared their business around on-trade hotel and restaurant sales.

It is an undoubtedly daunting task for an existing distributor to establish reliable distribution networks to the swath of supermarket chains that serve China’s 1.3 billion people, and the obvious answer to fill this void would be for state- owned enterprises to start taking a major role in the importation and distribution of wine.


Government trade offices from the likes of Australia, New Zealand and Chile have all done a fantastic job of representing and promoting their products in China. The problem is, while they can help with brand exposure and access to trade fairs, what producers really need is a helping hand in accessing the market without becoming beholden to the major importers who control most of the market.

The more assistance trade officials can provide in helping producers bring their products direct to the market, the better off the wine community as a whole will be.


In Chinese the word most commonly used to talk about wine is hongjiu. Literally translated, it means red wine. If you want to talk about white wine you need to specifically say bai putaojiu or white grape wine. But colloquially if you want to ask someone if they’d like a glass of wine you say, “would you like a glass of red wine?” That is no language mistake though, as in China, wine is red.

Yet white wine can be a much easier wine to understand and enjoy at the outset think of the White Zinfandel craze in America). Further, it is easier to pair white wine with Chinese food.

White wine is held back because it is perceived as being inferior; sommeliers and waiting staff would be doing everyone a favour by introducing their clients to the beauty, diversity and quality that can be found in a great bottle of white.


The last and perhaps most important point is learning the simplest lesson of wine: if you like it, it’s a great bottle. The simplest path to improving appreciation of wine is for the consumer to stand up and realise that even if they haven’t been drinking wine for ages, the only opinion that matters and carries weight is whether or not they like a certain bottle of wine.

And finally… Kicking the gan bei habit

The ubiquitous gan bei (a word composed of two characters meaning dry/empty and glass) has been the preferred method of consumption for all alcoholic beverages since long before bottles of red wine were ever found around the banqueting table. Yet it is in the recent surge in popularity of red wine that China might find an answer to ending the binge-drinking dinner banquets that are the hallmarks of business and social gatherings.

The gan bei almost makes sense when looked at through the context of the fiery sorghum-based baijiu that was red wine’s predecessor as the preferred drink to mark one’s social stature. Its fiery taste begs to be consumed as quickly as possible. Yet the exact opposite is true for a well-made bottle of wine that needs to be slowly savored and sipped. As wine culture advances and the propensity to sip rather than skull takes hold, wine has a chance to pave the way in kicking the gan bei habit in China.

February 12 2013

Wine merchant Berry Brothers & Rudd sets up shop in Hong Kong By Enoch Yiu

Berry Brothers & Rudd is eager to make the most of China's growing taste for fine wines - Simon Berry, chairman of Berry Brothers & Rudd. 

The growing number of wine lovers in Asia, particularly in China, has led a London-based wine merchant with 324 years of history serving customers in Europe to open its first outlet in Hong Kong.

Berry Brothers & Rudd's customers include the British Royal family and the company was responsible for the wine served to guests at the wedding dinner of Prince William and his bride, Kate Middleton.

The St James's Street company, Britain's oldest wines and spirits merchant, said it planned to expand in the region despite sales of high-end wine dropping by 30 per cent from its peak in 2010.

Until it opened its own base in Hong Kong this month, it operated in the city through a local franchisee. It has now opened in Hong Kong under its own name to target mainland and Hong Kong clients.

The company has an office in Wan Chai where clients can taste the wines and it is in the process of identifying a suitable location to open a retail shop.

Simon Berry, chairman of the family-owned business, said the company's shop in London on St James's Street had attracted a growing number of Chinese and Hong Kong customers in recent years, indicating strong demand from the region.

"We see Asia, particularly Hong Kong and mainland China, as being of increasing importance to our business. The business here is growing at the highest rate of any of our regions and we see that trend as continuing," Berry told the South China Morning Post when he was in Hong Kong for the opening.

Berry said mainland and Hong Kong customers who visited the London shop not only bought wine for investment or drinking, they also wanted to learn more about wine.

"There is a genuine thirst for knowledge about wine. That is why we decided to establish our own fully owned Berry Brothers & Rudd operation in Hong Kong, as a basis for further investment and to raise the bar even higher on service levels," he said. "It is definitely a sign of our strong commitment to the region."

The company also has operations in Japan and Singapore, but Berry said Hong Kong was an ideal location from which to expand the company's business in Asia because of its proximity to China and other Asian countries.

More importantly, Hong Kong now has no taxes on wine after slashing duties from 80 per cent to 40 per cent in 2007 and then scrapping the tax completely a year later.

The mainland, however, still levies a 40 per cent duty, while overseas markets, such as Britain, the United States and Japan, have taxes ranging from 5 to 20 per cent.

Had the wine duty still applied in Hong Kong, the city would not have been able to develop as a wine trading centre, Berry said.

Investors in fine wine may be smarting from the fall in prices, he said, citing a decline in the price of top-end Bordeaux wines of 30 per cent since their peak in 2010.

But the lower prices meant now was an ideal time to buy, either to drink or as an investment.

"Right now returns are on the way up, and it is a good time to buy," he said. "Burgundy is my tip at the moment as I feel we are about to experience a surge in its popularity."

However, investors should not take short-term bets, he said.

"It is best to look at wine as a long-term investment, with a minimum tenure of five years. It is also very important to carefully ensure that you invest in the right wines at the right time, and that is where Berry Brothers & Rudd can remove a lot of the risk with our advice."

January 20 2013

Putting some fizz into the wine market By Tang Zhihao in Shanghai

An employee walks between barrels of Remy Martin Fine Champagne Cognac, laid to age in a cellar at the Remy Cointreau SA headquarters in Cognac, France. However, Champagne - a unique sparkling wine associated with luxury and power over the centuries - has yet to receive widespread recognition and acceptance by the Chinese.

When talking about Bordeaux, many Chinese people know it is the most famous luxury wine production and trading base in France. However, when talking about the Champagne region in France, many are unaware that it is the only production region for champagne in the world and its name has been legally protected to prevent other producers of fizzy wine from trading on it.

In China, the red wine market is booming and owning expensive wine is becoming a symbol of good fortune and social status. However, champagne - a unique sparkling wine associated with luxury and power over the centuries - has yet to receive widespread recognition and acceptance by the Chinese.

"Compared with red wine, the acceptance of champagne is still limited," said Wang Wei, director of the Comit Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) in China. CIVC is the trade organization of champagne in France that oversees the global champagne market. One of CIVC's missions in China is to promote champagne and tell the story behind it to the Chinese.

Currently, the annual output of champagne is about 300 million bottles, of which 150 million bottles are sold globally. Only 1.3 million bottles of champagne were sold in China in 2011, an increase from the 300,000 sold in 2006. Wang said about half the demand for the drink came from Shanghai.

Officially introduced to the Chinese market in 2006, the demand for champagne is increasing gradually. However, market awareness is far below red wine. Most Chinese know Lafite is one of the most expensive red wines in the world but not many people can name the best champagne in the world.

Figures from consulting firm Euromonitor show that a total of 1.3 billion liters of red wine were consumed in China in 2011. In comparison, champagne consumption was only 900,000 liters in 2011.

In recent years, champagne has been increasingly seen at weddings and celebration parties in China. However, in many cases, newlywed couples only pour champagne down an ornate arrangement of glasses for a photo but do not drink it.

"The taste is light and a little bit strange. I think many guests, especially elderly people do not like that cold wine with bubbles," said Liu Hui, a white-collar worker in Shanghai whose wedding ceremony was in September 2012.

"In Western countries, champagne is consumed before meals. However, in China, on the rare occasions champagne is needed, most is drunk in bars and clubs," said Wang.

Many Chinese people believe champagne was developed for ladies and is not suitable for business banquets, he added.

January 16 2013

2012 Winery Compliance Wrap Up…….& What To Watch For in 2013 By Ann Reynolds

Here we are at years end. A time often focused on assessing the years events & developments, ups and downs. For the winemaking world 2012 has already been marked as an incredible one in relation specifically to the grape harvest. (At least here in California) But what about in relation to compliance? What were the stories there? And what's to come for wineries in 2013 that they'll want to pay attention to for keeping on top of their compliance?

I'll start off with the year end wrap up summary as far as TTB compliance. 2012 was a year where wineries continued to be given ways to avoid the TTB, so to speak. The updated allowable changes to wine labels came along in July which brought us a much broader range of common label changes than had ever been allowed before that do NOT require a new label approval submission. For more on this here's a link w/full details: 

The TTB also revamped its website in August this year, giving it a more "user friendly" look in part I'm sure designed to make commonly requested information easier to locate, thus attempting to cut down on phone calls or emails sent to them that continue to ask for the same sorts of information. I give the TTB a thumbs up for the website re-do, especially as someone who has watched it evolve over the past 15 years. I still find it to be one of the easiest government websites to navigate. (That's saying a lot!) If you haven't already seen it go take a look: 

The other government agency, the FDA also came back on our radar in 2012. The required registration of food facilities (which wineries are part of in their eyes) once started out as a one time registration. Then in 2012 the FDA changed that required registration to every two years. Now all wineries must have submitted their first of these registrations by December 31st. For more info on that here's a link: 

2013: Your compliance looking forward

What can you expect in the way of TTB updates in 2013? Here again I think you can continue to expect to see them offer new ways of "avoiding" us.

One of those ways is via their now about 2 year old electronic filing system, Permits Online. This system for submitting permit applications and amendments has to date only been available for brand new permit filers but they continue to list on their website that it will soon be opened up to pre 2011 permit holders.

This will mean that all existing TTB bonded wineries (& other TTB permit holders) would be able to use this online system to make updates to their TTB permits that they currently have to go the snail mail, paper copy route. One of the major advantages I see to this system is that it sets up all of your TTB permit information easily accessible in one place- where you know that you & the TTB are on the same page. Here's a link to their site for it if you haven't seen it yet: 

One last suggestion I'll offer you for getting off on the right foot with your 2013 compliance is to sign up for my upcoming free teleseminar, Guidance, Support & Ease with your Winemaking Compliance". 

I'll be covering topics related to your ongoing day to day TTB compliance, and ways to simplify it so it takes you less time and much less hassle. What better way to start off your winemaking year?

Here's a link to find out full details: 

December 6 2012

Hong Kong still tops wine auction sales - Hong Kong is on course to top global sales of fine wine for the second year running, writes Philippe Espinasse

A billboard displays premium wine lots at Sotheby's autumn sales in Hong Kong in October. John Kapon, CEO of Acker Merrall & Condit. 

Hong Kong is set to top wine auction sales again this year - a global crown it earned thanks to the reduction of the excise duty to zero in 2008. By the end of last month, the city had held 21 major events, raising a combined US$130.3 million this year. That figure excludes online auctions, and is well ahead of those achieved by rivals New York (US$56.1 million) and London (US$29.3 million).

San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, the Hamptons, Paris, Geneva and Amsterdam have also hosted important - although smaller - wine sales this year. That's in addition to the charity auction for the Hospices de Beaune, a candlelit affair held each November in Burgundy, which this year raised more than US$7.5 million for charity in a sale orchestrated by London-based Christie's. No doubt the glamour of guest auctioneer Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, France's former first lady, helped raise that total.

So far this year two US-based auction houses have raised the most revenue in Hong Kong: Acker Merrall & Condit, at US$39.3 million, closely followed by Zachys. Just behind is Britain's Christie's, with New York-based Sotheby's a more distant fourth. British firm Bonhams also held an auction at Pacific Place last month. The top four are believed to generate some two-thirds of their wine revenues in Hong Kong.

The city has become so attractive as a wine auction centre that chef Ferran Adria has chosen to sell the 8,807 bottle cellar from the now-defunct El Bulli restaurant here and in New York.

(They will be auctioned by Sotheby's on April 3 in Hong Kong and April 26 in New York.)

"Hong Kong remains, by far, the largest fine and rare wine auction market as we end 2012. The reason is it's home to many of the most sophisticated and knowledgeable wine collectors in the world," says John Kapon, Acker's CEO.

Upcoming auctions also include a three-day sale by Acker starting today at Grissini, in the Grand Hyatt. It will feature the first-ever direct auction offer from Gaja, Italy's foremost winemaking family. Domaine de la Romanee-Conti (DRC) will also be available, including assortments of 1996 and 1999 (estimated at up to HK$400,000 for a case of 12), magnums of 1983 and 1985 La Tache (up to HK$80,000), and verticals spanning the 1980 to 2009 vintages.

From Bordeaux, the highlights will include Chateau Haut-Brion, with 55 vintages and Chateau Margaux, with 60 vintages (in both cases, from 1945 to 2009), as well as Chateau d'Yquem, with 47 vintages (1945 to 2007).

A two-day sale by Sotheby's, starting tomorrow, will feature Bordeaux from a European cellar (the top five lots are all Petrus, with up to HK$550,000 estimated for 12 bottles) and Hermitage La Chapelle from the 1949 to 2009 vintages, directly from the cellars of Paul Jaboulet Aine (the top lot there is three bottles of 1961, estimated at up to HK$400,000).

Zachys will also hold an auction at the Mandarin Oriental hotel on January 11.

The biggest auction so far this year was held by Christie's over three days late last month, raising US$13.9 million in aggregate. The top 10 lots on the last day were all wines from DRC, the highest price being reached for 12 bottles of the 1988 vintage, which sold for HK$907,500.

The second-largest auction was an October event held by Sotheby's, bringing in US$9.5 million. Of the top 10 lots, six were grand cru Burgundies - all from DRC.

The very top lots were nine bottles of DRC 1990, sold for HK$1,715,000 (including the buyer's premium), as well as 12 bottles of Chateau Petrus 2000 (HK$441,000).

The shift towards some of the more famous, double-barrelled names of Burgundy is a new development for Chinese buyers, traditionally attracted to first growth Bordeaux, and to a few select names on the right bank, in Pomerol and Saint-Emilion.

At the recent Bonhams auction, some of Bordeaux's best-known labels did fairly well, including 12 bottles of Petrus 1998 for HK$214,200, six bottles of the 1964 (HK$166,600), and a lot of six bottles of Lafite Rothschild 1982 (HK$130,900).

But the real stars of the show were the Burgundy grands crus. These included 12 bottles of DRC 1988, sold for HK$1,047,200, six bottles of the 1995 (HK$511,700), and six of the 1993 vintage (HK$452,200).

With much smaller production volumes than Bordeaux, Burgundies can reach wince-inducing prices.

"We are seeing more and more sales of Burgundies at auction in Hong Kong, as mainland buyers shy away from Bordeaux, which have seen inflated en primeur prices in recent years. The wines they seek, in addition to DRC, are all from the best producers, including Comtes Lafon, Coche-Dury and Armand Rousseau," says Sebastien Chevalier, Hong Kong representative for Sarment, a membership-based wine advisory service set up by sommeliers from top restaurants.

"Burgundy prices, particularly for reds, have been the most important story in the second half of the year," says Acker's Kapon. Chinese buyers are now pursuing Burgundies (and wines from other regions) as more exclusive alternatives to top up their cellars. In August, Louis Ng Chi-sing, a Macau casino executive, bought the 2.3 hectare estate of Chateau de Gevrey-Chambertin, amid much controversy in rural France.

Doug Rumsam, managing director in Hong Kong for merchant and trader Bordeaux Index, says that "2012 has been a year of fascinating discoveries, with new trends: Burgundy, Champagne and Italy".

Many of the lots sold at auction are from large collections, assembled by wealthy amateurs. The issue of provenance remains paramount to establish quality. Fake wines remain widespread, on the mainland in particular, and especially when it comes to the better-known labels.

Distinctive markings, including holograms and ASE barcodes, have now been introduced to deter counterfeiters. Empty bottles of first growths and grands crus are also often destroyed after tasting events to prevent illegal recycling by unscrupulous sommeliers. Much (but not all) of the wines bought at auction in Hong Kong are sold by vendors based in the US, as can be seen from the telltale "strip" or "slip" labels affixed to these bottles, with the name of the local importer, as well as health warnings. Some of these wines can be rather well-travelled, too, which tends to affect their quality.

Wine sold at auction is mostly bought by individuals (some from Hong Kong, but most from the mainland), and a few on-trade outlets. However, many of the world's major wine merchants do not source through auctions.

Bordeaux Index states on its website that it generally does not buy US strip-labelled stock, or wine that has been shipped back into Europe from the Americas or Asia. Similarly, Berry Bros & Rudd, in business since 1698 and still run by the same family, says in its inspection guidelines that bottles with US or non-EU strip labels are to be rejected.

Alongside sales events, online auctions are gaining in popularity. Established in 1996, has 70,000 registered users worldwide who can sell on its platform through a three-step process involving a complimentary appraisal and subsequent consignment, prior to auctions held on a weekly basis. Zachys holds monthly online-only auctions (the next one on December 15) - as does Acker.

Denmark's Bruun Rasmussen offers weekly online sales, featuring wine alongside paintings, works of art and coins. Closer to home, Hong Kong Fine Wine Auction operates an internet marketplace which, at the time of writing, included 719 listings.

"Online auctions are an important part of our business too, and just as global in its nature as is our core auction business," says Kapon.

Philippe Espinasse is the author of IPO: A Global Guide (HKU Press) and holds a diploma in wine from the WSET

December 3 2012

Where Is China's Wine Market Going? By Suzanne Mustacich

As he hands over the reins of the country's top wine importer, Don St. Pierre says China is maturing and evolving - When Don St. Pierre Jr. announced in October that he had stepped aside as CEO of ASC Fine Wines, the company he cofounded with his father in 1996, it surprised many in the business. An American ex-pat, St. Pierre has been a trailblazer in building the fine wine trade in China. As one prominent Bordeaux négociant noted, “where ASC goes, we go.”

But in a lengthy interview with Wine Spectator, St. Pierre said the time had come for him to focus on long-term ideas and leave managing what has become a big business to an expert. ASC appointed John Watkins, an American executive who cut his teeth on Northwest Airlines’ expansion into China in the 1980s, as his successor.

A couple years ago, ASC began a big shift, moving beyond China’s saturated first-tier cities into second-tier cities, opening 26 offices and a distribution network to 150 cities. Staffing shot up from 400 to 1,200. “The challenges China presents moving forward are really unbelievable. We're just beginning to see Chinese consumers develop their own tastes and interest in wine and see wine as part of their life as opposed to drinking wine because of a business occasion,” St. Pierre told Wine Spectator. "We’re always trying to stay ahead. Hiring John is about staying ahead."

When St. Pierre and his father opened their doors in 1996, they represented just three brands—Beringer, Petaluma and Bollinger. To import their first container of wine, they formed a joint venture, but had a falling out that left them dry. “They actually hijacked our first container, so we didn’t even have wine for our first launch party,” said St. Pierre.

Today ASC has an annual turnover of $200 million, Suntory owns an 80 percent stake, and the company is poised for more expansion. The challenges ahead are both common to family-led companies and unique to China. “One challenge I’ve seen across four different industries in China is to attract, train and retain really good people as whole new industries are created,” said Watkins, who has also worked for GE and Cummins.

Watkins' coming on board as CEO will free up the 44-year-old St. Pierre to do what he does best from the executive chairman of the board’s seat: new ventures in the unpredictable, fast-paced Chinese market. As St. Pierre sees it, “It's critical for the organization and the shareholders that, as a cofounder and entrepreneur, I focus on what I'm good at and have a passion for. When I looked at who do we need to get to run this business for the next 10 years, it had to be someone who really understood China really well. It couldn't be someone who understood the wine business, but didn’t understand China."

While Watkins improves training and efficiency, expands the core business of business-to-business sales and negotiates strategic alliances in China’s fickle regulatory environment, St. Pierre will focus on direct sales and premium domestic wine production, both of which offer potential. “We’re very interested in acquiring or investing in a domestic winery. As a major distributor of wine, it’s not right that we don’t have a decent quality domestic wine as part of our portfolio,” said St. Pierre.

There is a relationship between premium domestic wine and imported wine. Over the past three years, as domestic producers upgraded packaging and raised prices, consumers got used to the idea of spending 50 bucks for a bottle of wine. The result was that demand exploded for often little-known imported wines, which suddenly seemed affordable and a better value in terms of quality.

Now St. Pierre aims to compete with domestic producers by making his own Chinese wine, assuring distribution through his network. He sees particular potential in direct sales. “I'll be involved in developing our direct sales business model—Internet, shops, retail store partnerships, and then we're building these flagship platforms called ‘wine residences’ in different cities where we have regional offices,” said St. Pierre. ASC recently unveiled a 54,000-square-foot luxury wine residence in Shanghai that includes a wine shop, private club, event space, wine training and wine lockers and storage for corporate and private clients.

But the road is paved with as many obstacles as possibilities. “In April, [Premier] Wen Jiabao came out with a statement that the Chinese government was wasting too much money on expensive alcohol,” said St. Pierre. "That was a remarkable statement—that the Premier would specifically point out expensive alcohol as being a problem—but it shows you the extent to which government or government-related companies are spending on expensive alcohol."

The effect was immediate. This is a transition year for the Chinese government, rife with political instability and headline-grabbing infighting. Government officials suddenly weren’t so comfortable uncorking Bordeaux’s top brands, and businesses with government relationships were already cutting back on entertainment as the economy slowed. Figures from Chinese customs show a boom from January to August 2011, when wine imports grew 100 percent in value and 60 percent in volume. For the same period in 2012, wine imports only grew 13 percent in value and 17 percent in volume. The average price per liter has dropped as the Chinese traded down.

Meanwhile smuggling and the murky gray areas in Chinese law continue to test wine traders. Smugglers operating over the Macao and Hong Kong borders into the Mainland avoid the 48 percent duty, making it tough for legitimate importers to compete. And corruption is a major issue. “You have to be very smart. It’s hard for small companies to deal with those issues when they have not yet established themselves so that they can say, 'No, we’re not going to do that,'” said St. Pierre.

How does a company stay ahead of such challenges? The trick is to think China first, wine second. “Honestly, if we had come to China being wine people first, and not understanding China, we would never have survived,” said St. Pierre.

December 2 2012

Bottoms up! A healthy wine market By Zhou Siyu

Chinese choose fermented grape beverage from France in ever larger numbers. Scan the label with your mobile phone camera and press "OK" and you will get all the information you need - the brand, the chateau or the winemaker - about the bottle of wine in your hand.

This is a smartphone application named "Smart Bordeaux", developed and translated into more than 12 languages by the Bordeaux Wine Council (Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux, or CIVB in French), a French group that represents more than 10,000 Bordeaux wine producers and vine growers.

China now is the world's largest Bordeaux wine importer in terms of both volume and value, far ahead of its nearest followers. Chinese people are starting to get used to the drink and are trying to understand more about the culture behind it. Provided to China Daily

More than 55,000 users across the world have downloaded this application since its launch in September, according to the council. Judged by downloads, China turned out to be the second largest user, behind France itself. Encouraged, CIVB interprets the data as a sign that the Chinese people are starting to get used to the drink and are trying to understand more about the culture behind it.

Sales of Bordeaux wine confirm this opinion. During the 12-month period from June 2011 to July 2012, Bordeaux wine exports surged to a historical high of 2.29 billion euros ($2.9 billion), according to CIVB.

China is the world's largest Bordeaux wine importer in terms of both volume and value, far ahead of its nearest followers. During the period, China's imports reached 63 million liters, more than twice the volume of Germany, which ranked second globally.

Meanwhile, China's import value stood at 649 million euros, 55 percent higher than the United Kingdom, which came second in value, CIVB data showed.

In the meantime, despite the impact caused by the economic slowdown on the retail market, China's imports of Bordeaux wine registered much stronger growth than traditional markets such as Germany and the UK.

The import volume to the Chinese mainland surged by 55 percent during the period from a year earlier, while value growth reached 38 percent year-on-year, CIVB said.

"China has evolved into a mature wine market," said Thomas Jullien, CIVB Asia manager.

Jullien's observation was partly based on a survey recently conducted by the council, covering wine buyers in five Chinese cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. According to the survey, CIVB found that Chinese wine buyers now attach less importance to price and brand than before and more to quality and production region.

Another improvement of the industry in the country is the mature supply chain. Thanks to the rapid development of transportation, storage and other facilities, built from scratch within the last decade, Bordeaux wine now can be delivered to even third- and fourth-tier cities, Jullien said.

The market order also improved. During the first few years when imported wine entered the country, traders could easily sell a bottle of Bordeaux for more than double its price in the market.

"The period of chaos and fat profits is gone," said Liu Liming, who has eight years of experience in the wine business and is now North China general manager at the Wine Art Co, a Chinese wine trader. "You might still be able to trick some people over one bottle nowadays, but once you get a bad reputation, you will never sell another, no matter at what price," he added.

Others in the business concurred. Wang Mingjie, beverage director at the East Wine Cellar Co, a wine trader that also runs a high-end restaurant in Beijing, said: "The buyers are now very shrewd. They stick to their own preferences and make decisions accordingly."

And wine sellers such as Wang and Liu are likely to face savvier customers in the years to come. According to a recent report by Rabobank, wine drinkers in China today are mainly aged between 20 and 39 and earn more than 4,000 yuan ($630) a month in a skilled profession.

"Grape wines are more likely to attract either younger, better educated, wealthier and/or female drinkers than baijiu (China's traditional spirit) or beer... with the potential to form a strong and dynamic consumer base in years to come," the report said.

CIVB's Jullien also noticed this emerging wine generation and is trying to attract its attention. France has been by far the domineering leader among foreign wine suppliers in the Chinese market.

In 2011, French wine export volumes to China surged to more than three-and-a-half times that of Australia, its nearest runner-up, according to the Rabobank report. Most of the wine came from the Bordeaux region.

During the same year, bottled wine imports into China jumped by 65 percent from the previous year to 241 million liters, the strongest growth since the global financial recession in 2007-08, according to the report.

A significant increase was seen in the country's wine supply over the past seven years. It surged from fewer than 400 million liters in 2004 to 1.4 billion liters in 2011, according to the report.

China's strong growth, huge potential and the ability to devour a large amount of premium wine attracted newcomers such as Argentina and Brazil. This has led to intense competition among wine suppliers.

To further consolidate its position in the Chinese market, CIVB plans to roll out a digital commercial campaign in the country, targeting the young generation of wine lovers by means of e-commerce, such as micro blogs and social network sites. The Bordeaux mobile application running on portable gadgets is an example.

It also set out to further promote its wines to third- and even fourth-tier Chinese cities.

Jullien said he is "completely confident" about the continued future development of China's wine market. And it, perhaps, would just begin with a touch on the screen.

November 30 2012

Growing Your Own Grapes Isn't the Only Way By Lettie Teague

THE WINE WORLD is full of divisions, large and small. There's red- versus white-wine drinkers, and Burgundy lovers versus partisans of Bordeaux. There are even those who eschew wines with more than 14% alcohol. And then there are the wine drinkers who will only buy wines produced by domaines—never a wine made by a négociant.

The French word négociant means a dealer or merchant of wine. A négociant typically purchases grapes, wine or must (fermented or unfermented juice) and puts his own label on the final product. Unlike with a wine made at a domaine (a winery that makes and bottles its own wines), the components and the creation of the wine can be a bit of mystery, not just to a buyer but sometimes even to the négociant himself.

Of dubious quality and questionable provenance, négociant wines were often quite cheap but rarely good deals—at least until recently. Today's top négociants—whose spiritual home may be in Burgundy but who work all over the world—are producing higher-quality wines and are often engaged with the winemaking and the viticulture.

Jean-Charles Boisset, whose family owns one of the biggest négociant companies in Burgundy, said that back in the 1960s, his parents "just bought the wine and put their name on the label" but that he works directly with the growers themselves. In fact, Mr. Boisset—who calls himself a "viniculturalist" and not a négociant—posited on a recent phone call that "the négociant has taken over the role of the grower."

Mr. Boisset owns 19 wineries in France and America and produces both domaine and négociant wines, as do quite a few of his peers, including established Burgundy producers like Maison Olivier Leflaive in Puligny-Montrachet and newer players like Nicolas Potel in Beaune. Mr. Potel founded Maison Roche de Bellene in 2008 after being forced out of his family company, Maison Nicolas Potel, a négociant firm.

Mr. Potel owns almost 60 acres of vineyards in Burgundy, and brothers Olivier and Patrick Leflaive own parcels in both premier cru and grand cru vineyards that were recently returned to their family after the lease with their cousins at Domaine Leflaive ended, but they are all well versed in the prejudice against négociant wines. Patrick Leflaive has addressed it directly by setting up blind tastings for sommeliers that included both his négociant- and domaine-bottled wines. "Most of the time, they considered the négociant wine the better wine," he reported with satisfaction over a recent lunch in New York.

Sommeliers have been some of the most vociferous critics of négociant wines, according to Michael Madrigale, head sommelier of Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud in New York. Some of his fellow professionals won't even put négociant wines on their lists, said Mr. Madrigale, who disagrees with this "knee-jerk" estimation.

lthough Mr. Madrigale is admittedly a big(ger) fan of domaine-bottled wines, he has been impressed by some of the good values from Burgundy négociants like Robert Drouhin, Deux Montille, and from Hecht & Bannier, a négociant company based in the Roussillon region of France. "I didn't even know Hecht & Bannier was a négociant company," confessed Mr. Madrigale. "I was just impressed with the wines—I thought they really spoke of a place."

I hadn't known that Hecht & Bannier was a négociant either when I first tasted its wines a few years ago. Like Mr. Madrigale, I'd been impressed by their depth of flavor, concentration and finesse. But I didn't understand why Grégory Hecht and François Bannier didn't own their own vineyards—after all, land is a lot cheaper in Roussillon than it is in Burgundy, where a vineyard acre might cost millions of euros. (By contrast, an acre of old-vine Grenache in Roussillon costs as little as €10,000, or $12,700.)

Why not own vineyards? I asked Mr. Hecht, who replied that there was no reason to buy land when there wasn't much competition for top-quality grapes. The firm could get all the fruit that it needed from all the best places in the region: "Imagine you can bottle a Pauillac which would be a blend of Mouton, Latour and Lafite," he wrote in an email. "This is the freedom we have chosen."

Freedom is négociants' favorite word (although they'll also admit it can be a double-edged sword). "As a négociant you have the freedom to pick from 21 different plots to make a wine," said Patrick Leflaive. The owner of a domaine can work only with the vineyards he has. Of course, as Mr. Potel admitted, there is also an attendant uncertainty in buying the fruit rather than owning it. (Most négociants have handshake agreements, not written contracts, with the growers in his part of France.)

And unlike in Roussillon, in Burgundy the competition for grapes can be fierce—and the cost often high. "There is a big pressure in terms of price," noted Mr. Potel. "Ten years ago it was much easier." The price of grapes in Burgundy has doubled, even tripled compared with five years ago, said Mr. Potel, who feared producers would price themselves out of the market. "We do not want to be like Bordeaux, killing the market," he said, a reference to the ever-escalating prices of the best wines of that region. "We are on the cliff right now—it can go one way or another."

American négociant Cameron Hughes has a rosier view of the future. Flush with success from buying wine from prestigious (but unnamed) vineyards and wineries in California and reselling them under his name, Mr. Hughes has recently moved into Europe. He's buying wine everywhere from Brunello to Bordeaux to Burgundy to Côte-Rôtie—"A-plus stuff at great prices," he said. The wines, ranging from $8 to $50, will be in the market next month. What's his secret? How does he get so much good wine? Cash, along with the right contacts and good distribution, said Mr. Hughes.

Contacts, distribution, improved winemaking techniques: The reasons these négociants offered for their success sounded like many of the same reasons that top domaines were doing well. Perhaps they weren't so far apart after all? Jean-Luc Colombo, a consultant, a négociant and the owner of a Rhône Valley domaine, doesn't think so. In fact, there are so many domaines making second labels or wines on the side, Mr. Colombo declared, "everyone is a négociant today."

Mr. Colombo had a very flattering (and very French) analogy in mind: "All great chefs are négociants," he said, rattling off the names of a few greats: Daniel Boulud, Guy Savoy, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Paul Bocuse. They didn't grow lettuce or butcher meat or catch fish, but they all knew whom to turn to for the best ingredients, Mr. Colombo said. "You have to be able to recognize quality," he said. Of course, this holds true for wine drinkers, too—whether they're assessing wines from Burgundy or Bordeaux, wines of high or low alcohol, or wines made at domaines or by négociants.

November 28 2012

Australia's First Families Target China By Lucy Shaw

Australia’s First Families of Wine is to embark upon its first trade mission to China and Hong Kong next year, in a bid to get Asian consumers thirsty for Australian fine wine.

Australia’s ranking as the second most imported wine in China makes China a key market.

The Asian mission will take AFFW representatives to five cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, where they will meet and mingle with government officials, wine writers and consumers.

Comprised of some of Australia’s oldest family-owned wine companies, including Henschke, Yalumba, De Bortoli, Howard Park Wines and Tyrrell’s, the group is keen to play on its long history in a country that venerates family and tradition.

”There is a lot of respect from the Chinese for family values and tradition.

“It is extremely important when you are in China, and we see these events as not only a positive for the AFFW, but also positive for the image of Australian wine,” AFFW’s new chairman Mitchell Taylor told Australian newspaper The Age.

A third-generation Taylors managing director, Taylor will be dividing his time and attention between Australia and China during his tenure at the close-knit wine body.

”China has long been identified as a market with great potential for Australian wine.

”To have the greatest impact, our industry needs to speak with a unified voice in China. I see this as an important objective for Australia’s First Families of Wine,” he said.

Created in 2009, AFFW is formed of 12 family-owned wineries keen to highlight the quality and diversity of Australian wine to counter the image in international markets of Australia as a cheap wine producing country.

Its members represent 16 Australian wine growing regions across four states.

AFFW has run events in England, Canada and Ireland, along with a number of local tastings showcasing the wide array of wines made by the 12 member estates.

November 27 2012

Italian Wines to Star at Hong Kong Auction By Rupert Millar

An ex-cellar consignment of Gaja and other Italian wines are set to dominate Acker Merrall & Condit’s final auction of the season in Hong Kong. CEO John Kapon said the sale, taking place on 6-8 December was the most diverse in “Acker’s history” and will, “undoubtedly cause a sensation among connoisseurs.”

The Gaja consignment features verticals of single vineyard Barolos and Barbarescos, including a 24-bottle vertical of Sori San Lorenzo Barbaresco (HK$48,000-HK$64,000).

More Italian wines are represented by Antinori, Sassicaia and Ornellaia among others.

Highlights include five double magnums of Ornellaia from 1999 to 2006 (HK$34,000 – HK$44,000), a six-litre 2004 Solaia (HK$24,000 – HK$40,000) and 24 bottles of 1999 Barolo from Cordero di Montezemolo (HK$14,400 – HK$20,000).

There are also major lots of Bordeaux and Burgundy including a vertical of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, a vertical of Haut Brion from 1945 to 2009, Margaux, Yquem, de Voguë, Leroy, Potel, Ponsot, Henri Jayer and Clos du Tart.

There is also a 10 magnum vertical of Screaming Eagle from 1992 to 2002 (HK$800,000 – HK$1,200,000).

Kapon mentioned the diversification of the market and said that this sale “is truly a great opportunity for collectors to acquire extraordinary wines to build up their collections before we bid adieu to 2012.”

November 21 2012 

Hong Kong Autumn Auction Season Heats Up By Euan McKirdy

La Chapelle 1959, 1961, 1978, 1990 from Sotheby’s Finest and Rarest Wines Including Hermitage La Chapelle 1949 – 2009 Direct From the Cellars of Paul Jaboulet Aîné sale

Sales from four major auction houses, starting tomorrow, hope to boost confidence in the Hong Kong and Mainland markets. Starting 21 November, Hong Kong will host wine and spirits auctions from Bonhams, Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Acker, Merrall & Condit over the coming weeks. The events will be watched by analysts as a bellwether for the return of confidence in the East Asian markets.

The auction dates start with Bonham’s Fine and Rare Wines, Cognac & Single Malt Whisky, held on 21 November at Hong Kong’s Island Shangri-La.

The sale features a total of 500 lots, including the fine and rare wines, covering Bordeaux and Burgundies to iconic Italian wines, and boasting a close-to HK$13 million (GB£1 million) estimate.

Highlights from the sale include 12 bottles of Romanée-Conti 1988, 12 bottles of Château Pétrus 1982, and the 6 bottles of Romanée-Conti 1997.

Covering three days at the Hong Kong Conference and Exhibition Center (HKCEC), Christie’s Fine and Rare Wines sales (23-25 November) and will offer over 1800 lots.

Expected to bring in in excess of HK$100 million (£8 million), this season’s sales present an enviable selection of mature Bordeaux from renowned châteaux, rare Burgundies from celebrated Domaines, Grower Champagne and superlative Rhône Valley Crus.

Sales highlights include a Château Lafite Rothschild Vintage 1870 (Lot 3205) double magnum, estimate HK$300,000-400,000 (£24,300-32,400)

Saturday’s auction will see sales from a single-owner European collection, consisting of the most comprehensive assortment of rare Burgundies and Rhône valley wines ever offered in Hong Kong.

Sotheby’s will be presenting two days of sales – Magnificent Bordeaux From A European Cellar and Finest and Rarest Wines Including Hermitage La Chapelle 1949 – 2009 Direct From the Cellars of Paul Jaboulet Aîné – on 7 and 8 December respectively at the new Sotheby’s Hong Kong Gallery at One Pacific Place, Admiralty.

With a combined 915 lots, the two wine sales have an estimated value of HK$24 – 35 million (£1.9 – 2.8 million).

The first sale will see a range of first growths and some of the most sought-after wines from the Right Bank, such as Château Pétrus and Château Cheval Blanc, available in parcels and multiple vintages, while the second date offers 130 lots of Hermitage La Chapelle coming directly from the cellars of Paul Jaboulet Aîné including the legendary 1961 vintage.

Acker Merrall & Condit, America’s oldest wine merchant, will also be holding an sale at Grissini in Hong Kong’s Grand Hyatt on the 7 and 8 December.

November 20 2012 

Jiugui denies claims liquor is tainted, toxic plasticizers found in almost all baijiu by Erik Crouch

Alcohol producer Jiugui Liquor Co is disputing claims by a Shanghai-based food testing company that bottles of baijiu sold by Jiugui "contain excessive and toxic plasticizers which could impair male sexual function and even cause liver cancer."

A reporter for news website 21cbh, acting on a tip-off from company "insiders", sent four bottles of Jiugui, purchased from an official store in Beijing, to the National Food Quality Supervision and Inspection Centre. The centre refused to check the liquor because that would "require authorization from the production company" (which demonstrates how absolutely useless and ineffective the National Food Quality Supervision and Inspection Centre is and why food safety scandals keep happening).

After being rebuffed by Chinese authorities, 21cbh's reporter sent the bottles to Intertek Co, a Shanghai based independent food testing centre. Intertek's test "showed that samples of the liquor contained three plasticizers - diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP) and dibutyl phthalate (DBP)." The DBP in particular was 260% above the levels permitted by official guidelines.

Plasticizers such as those allegedly found in Jiugui can disrupt hormone levels, cause damage to the immune and digestive systems, and even cause liver cancer. Jiugui Vice President Fan Zhen has disputed the findings and refused to order a product recall, claiming that Intertek's findings did not match those of the national supervisory body.

Zhen claimed that his company did not add plasticizer (which is sometimes used to improve appearance and taste) during the production process, but experts have pointed out that the contaminants may still have found their way into the final product during the distilling process. Nearly all brands of baijiu likely contain unhealthy amounts of plasticizer, according to a report by The Chinese Alcoholic Drinks Association. Though national safety standards allow up to .3 mg/kg, but the recent report found up to 2.32 mg/kg of plasticizer in mainland-produced baijiu.

Shanghaiist would like to point out to producers that baijiu is poisonous enough already without them adding carcinogenic plasticizers.

含塑超標2.5倍 質檢總局:日飲一斤無害 酒鬼酒確實「有鬼」 - 星島日報












中酒協中食協互掐 - 星島日報





α-乙基已脂)(DEHP)、鄰苯二甲酸二異壬酯(DINP)和鄰苯二甲酸二正丁酯(DBP)最大殘留量分別為1.5m g/kg9.0m g/kg0 .3m g/kg.


November 20 2012 

Singtao Newspaper Editorial: China's tinted poison wines could mean opportunities for California Wines

中國毒酒風波造就鐵腕施政新契機 (星島社論 )











November 16 2012

China wine fund eyes California targets by Chris Mercer

A US$100m wine investment fund set up by China's Hina Group has no shortage of potential targets among top wineries in California, according to an adviser.

Private equity firm Hina has recruited Richard Wollack, founder of Premier Pacific Vineyards, to scope out acquisition opportunities, and his phone is hotting up.

'Every day we're getting more contacts from properties, some not officially on the market and some that are,' Wollack told 

California represents something of a new departure for China's wine property investors, after several years of focusing on Bordeaux. 

'We're looking at existing producing vineyards, ones that are already developed in the high-end space, in places like Napa, Sonoma and other highlands areas in California,' Wollack said, without naming specific targets.

Wealthy Chinese wine drinkers appear to be having their own 1976 Judgement of Paris moment, realising that top Cabernets from California can rival those of Bordeaux. The fund also reflects China becoming more serious about wine. 

Not that all of the deals sought by Hina's fund have drinking top of mind. 'We represent investors looking for a good long-term investment,' said Wollack. 'Vineyards in Napa have never gone down in value, and it's basically planted out.

'There's also interest in potentially buying a brand or creating a wine from acquired vineyards that could be brought back to China and given as a gift, but the fundamentals are good investment,' he said. 

Those looking to sell in California range from second generation owners not keen to follow in the family footsteps, to some suffering financial difficulties.

November 9 2012

E-retailers brace for massive promotion for Nov 11 event (By Chen Limin) 

For most e-commerce players in China, this Sunday may probably be the very day they both love and worry about. A large online shopping promotion, most likely the biggest ever, will come as an opportunity for many to cash in on - and prove a huge test too.

The promotion, initiated by e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, includes more than 10,000 vendors on its that will offer half-price discounts on Sunday. Major e-commerce websites, including Jingdong Mall and Amazon China, will also hold promotions that day, making the shopping event even bigger.

An employee at the warehouse of Beijing Jiuxian E-Commerce Co Ltd, a spirits seller that has decided to take part in the Nov 11 e-commerce promotion. The company sold 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) worth of spirits in last year's event.

In the office of Beijing Jiuxian E-Commerce Co Ltd, a Beijing-based spirits seller, there is not just a smell of spirits, but also one of "war".

A digital clock at the office door counted down seconds for the upcoming promotion; a red banner hanging high on the wall to boost morale; and a "war map" including more than 100 work divisions occupied the most conspicuous place in the office.

"I am very excited and curious, but also wonder whether we can make it," said company Chairman Hao Hongfeng, who talked in his office after days of hard work.

The company sold spirits worth 10 million yuan ($1.6 million) in the event last year. Hao aims to boost sales by 10 times that amount on Sunday, which, if successful, will be the equivalent of a month in sales during the off-season.

"Sending out goods is the most challenging part," Hao said.

To achieve the goal, Hao has doubled the number of customer service staff to 100 and added three more warehouses from just one last year.

New automatic facilities have been put into use in the warehouses to facilitate work. The company can reduce the number of workers by 100 in the Beijing warehouse alone because of the automatic facilities, Hao said.

The Nov 11 event usually attracts a large number of online shoppers because of discounts. Daniel Zhang, president of Tmall, said on Wednesday that traffic to Tmall has exceeded the peak of last year's promotion.

The event, therefore, has attracted not only e-commerce vendors like Hao's company, but also traditional manufacturers that seldom use the Web as a sales channel.

This is the case for Beijing Toread Camping Equipment Co Ltd, a major camping-clothes maker in China.

"We are big with our brick-and-mortar stores, but not yet online," said Liu Yanli, who heads the company's e-commerce arm.

The company tried its luck during last year's event when it "didn't know what it would bring", Liu said. It ended up with sales of 3 million yuan with its stock for the event completely cleared.

The company, however, was ambivalent, as online shopping has big potential but disrupts the pricing system in its brick-and-mortar stores.

Solving this conflict became part of Liu's task this year. "We have to grow online, but at the same time maintain profits in our traditional stores," she said. Her answer is to provide goods exclusively online.

About 80 percent of the products in the event this year will be of this kind, and the rest will be older inventory from past seasons, she said.

Like Hao, Liu also increased the workforce for customer service and warehousing. About 400 employees from the company's business partners will work for 24 hours sending packages of goods.

Liu and a dozen employees will stay up on Saturday and Sunday, to work as part-time customer-service workers. Sleeping bags have been prepared for their upcoming night shift.

She said she hoped Toread's online store can hit sales of 20 million yuan this year, which would be almost half of the company's online sales this year.

Last year, transactions worth 3.36 billion yuan were made on during the event.

November 4 2012

November 1 2012

Hong Kong's wine lovers opt for cheaper Bordeaux By Amy Nip

Wine lovers are finding that a good bottle from their favorite region needn't cost the earth - A couple drink to the opening of the Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival at West Kowloon Promenade yesterday. A light show launched the Wine and Dine festival. 

Hongkongers are no longer the world's biggest spenders on Bordeaux wines but are opting for more affordable bottles.

Over the past year, the city imported and re-exported Bordeaux wines worth €300 million (HK$3 billion), a 12 per cent drop year on year. In contrast, import volumes climbed 16 per cent to 15 million bottles, according to the Bordeaux Wine Council.

The city is now third in terms of import value, after the United Kingdom and the mainland.

The mainland imported 38 per cent more wine in terms of value and 55 per cent more in terms of volume, with the total reaching 15 million bottles, worth €350 million, over the past year.

The figures show Chinese drinkers are diversifying from the priciest wines to cheaper ones, said the council's president, Georges Haushalter, who is in Hong Kong for the four-day Wine and Dine Festival. The four-day event started on the West Kowloon Promenade yesterday.

"It's a normal process in a mature market. People start to notice there are not only five, but 10,000 chateaux in Bordeaux," Haushalter said.

Since Hong Kong abolished duty on wine in 2008, it has become an auction centre for fine wines. Chinese collectors' passion for Bordeaux wines has pushed up prices, especially for Chateau Lafite Rothschild, to historic highs, but the market has cooled considerably since last year.

The Liv-ex Fine Wine 50 Index, which tracks the price movement of the 10 most recent vintages of Bordeaux first growths, rose fourfold from January 2005 to June 2011. Since then it has dropped by about a third.

Hong Kong used to focus a lot on top wines, Haushalter said. The average price per bottle of Bordeaux wine in the city is now €21, still much higher than the global average of €7.40, he said. It is €5.10 on the mainland.

Haushalter said it was natural to see an adjustment after rapid, strong price growth over the past three years. To move ahead, merchants would put stronger emphasis on mid-range wines costing from as little as HK$50.

"We will help people learn about wines, so they can discover new chateaux and diversify their tastes," he said.

Meanwhile, mainlanders' passion for Bordeaux has broadened from buying its bottled wines to snapping up chateaux. Only two chateaux were Chinese-owned three years ago. Now there are 30, with 25 transactions over the past two years.

While the purchase of Chateau de Gevrey-Chambertin in Burgundy by Louis Ng Chi-sing, right-hand man to Macau gambling tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun, caused uproar in the region, Haushalter said Bordeaux always welcomed foreign investment.

There was a cultural difference between the two regions, he said.

"The [Catholic] church used to own the chateaux in Burgundy before the French revolution, while the peasants bought them afterwards. In Bordeaux, the chateaux were set up by entrepreneurs."

Haushalter said efforts were being made to guard against fake wines on the mainland. Bordeaux is now registered as a brand under the State Administration of Industry and Commerce, meaning there is a legal basis to prosecute copycats.

October 31 2012

How wine became Francis Ford Coppola's consuming passion By Sarah Wong

Francis Ford Coppola was in town recently to relaunch a wine label he spent more than 30 years revitalizing. He tells Sarah Wong abouthis two great passions - Filmmaker and winemaker Francis Ford Coppola. 

Francis Ford Coppola has just spent a month in Beijing, an experience the 73-year-old film director found revelatory. "Chinese people are very much like Italians," he says.

Coppola is dismissive of the idea that Beijingers are obsessed with brands. Out buying a toothbrush one day, he found himself in a mall, surrounded shops such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton. His first thought was that he might as well have been in Beverly Hills.

"You know, those brands bore me. At first I thought, 'So they can afford to buy a €1,800 (HK$18,000) wine so they can impress,'" he says. However, on another shopping trip he had a "key moment". In a coffee shop, he saw a television was displaying an insurance commercial depicting a regular family together with the grandparents, toasting with a glass of red wine at the table. It made him think: "That must mean something very important. Wine is not just a prestige thing. The scene in the commercial is about happiness. Using wine as part of the family will remain in the culture."

During his time in the capital, Coppola was also invited to many artists' homes and found further parallels with Italy and his own experience of growing up in an Italian-American family. Just as in his childhood, the Beijing gatherings often entailed eating vast meals and drinking wine with 18 other people, and children running around.

Sharply dressed, even for an 8.40am wine tasting and interview, Coppola talks about a love of wine that has led to his ownership and revitalisation of California's Inglenook winery. When he predicts an optimistic future for Chinese wine culture, where it will be "regular" people drinking wine much the same way as the wine culture evolved in America more than 20 years ago, he is no doubt hoping they will be drinking Inglenook wines.

Coppola was in Beijing, Hong Kong and Macau to relaunch a brand he has spent more than three decades revitalising. He describes it as "an old brand that was murdered. It is something new but really old". The epic story begins over a century ago. In 1880 Gustave Niebaum, a wealthy Finnish sea captain and entrepreneur, bought Inglenook farm in the Napa Valley, which was described by The San Francisco Examiner, in 1890, as "a spot of indescribable loveliness in the midst of charming surroundings". Niebaum had lofty ambitions. "I am going to make a California wine, if it can be made, that will be sought after by connoisseurs and will command as high a price as the famous French, German and Spanish wines, and I am prepared to spend all the money needed to accomplish that result."

By the time of Niebaum's death, in 1908, Inglenook had made Californian wines famous. The winery won 27 medals at the Paris Centennial Exposition and its wines were served in the White House to president Grover Cleveland. Under the management of John Daniel Jnr, Niebaum's grandnephew, the label's reputation grew. Its wines won the largest number of medals at San Francisco's Golden Gate International Exposition. The 1941 Inglenook cabernet sauvignon in later years won the accolade as the best ever made.

Inglenook's dark period began in 1964. Due to financial constraints, Daniel decided to sell the front of the property, and rights to the name, to the corporate giant Allied Grape Growers. The nature of the wine changed as mass-volume generic wines were produced, eroding the former great reputation of Inglenook. In 1969, Heublein, a large spirits company at the time, acquired Inglenook.

It was in 1972 that Coppola entered the picture. He was looking for a summer house for his family in Napa Valley and was shown the Niebaum mansion at the back of the property. His first attempt to buy it was unsuccessful. However, in 1975, using the proceeds from the first two Godfather films, he was able to fulfil his dream. "Two things sealed it for me" he says of his decision to buy the property. At the back was a lake, which evoked idyllic memories of a happy childhood in similar surroundings. In front of the house was a wooden swing under a huge tree, where he thought his then four-year-old daughter, Sofia, could play.

In 1995, Coppola was able to buy the front part of the property with the income from directing Bram Stoker's Dracula. The second part of his dream was fulfilled as the original property and its chateau were reunited.

The final piece of the puzzle slotted into place last year when Coppola bought back the rights to the Inglenook name and chateau image. He appointed Philippe Bascaules, formerly of Chateau Margaux, as general manager with a mission to realise the 130-year-old dream of Niebaum, John Daniel Jnr and Coppola by making the world's best wines and "realising the potential of the heritage".

Although wine has always been part of Coppola's life, he did not intend to go into the wine business in 1975. At first the grapes from the property were sold. But the thought occurred to him: "If the grapes are so famous, maybe instead of selling them we should make wine out of them." The idea led to the birth of Rubicon - a Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc.

As a child, growing up in an Italian family, he recalls "there was never a dinner table without wine on it. Wine was the traditional beverage. We kids would drink wine with lemon soda". He continued to learn about wine as a writer in France, where he was stunned by the quality of fine wines from Chateau Lafite and Domain de la Romanée-Conti.

Family is integral to the long-term success of the winery, Coppola says. "Wine work takes decades. You do not get results in a year or two or five. That's why it is so important to have succession. The children are now adults with children of their own. It is important that the family keeps it as a family estate and runs it."

He says that few families in the world are privileged enough to have a premier cru winery as part of their heritage and be able to live there. He hopes that the grandchildren who play there now can eventually become the custodians. "Few things in life have this appeal," he says.

Coppola's goal now that he owns the brand name is to produce a top-class wine to match it. He looks to Bordeaux as a reference point as he believes the French have set a benchmark.

"Everyone said the wine is miraculous. How can we have wines as beautiful? In the arts, when you read a novel by Flaubert, Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky, you think: 'If only I could write like that'. So it is good to have a demonstrative wine that we can do as well."

As for Inglenook's wine style, Coppola thinks in terms of a first growth and hopes that the wine will "become ever more elegant, which means lower alcohol, which means long finish, which means that the unique flavour of black fruit is there, and has silkiness, freshness".

Coppola is confident that Inglenook will not see a reversal of its fortunes and see the break-up of the property. He says the estate has no debt and the winery has always been profitable. The children are on the board and already effectively the owners. They understand it is Coppola's wish to keep the winery in the family.

Looking back on his investment track record, Coppola recalls: "Several times in life I tried to make investments. To make movies that I want to make, the films need to be self-financed. Every time I tried to make money in business I lost money. When I did not try and did something I loved, I made money.

"The fundamental lesson I learned in business is to pick something you love without the intention of it being profitable, and it will probably be profitable."

Cinema and wine are Coppola's two passions. When asked to choose between his great loves, he replies: "My first love in life is cinema. To pursue cinema, the most magical of art forms, is the central theme of my life. Wine is part of being alive. Food is necessary to all human beings. Wine is the queen of food."

Coppola seems a complete man. He is in "a good place in his movie career" and doing projects that he wants to do. In his wine career, he has completed a 37-year-old project in resurrecting a great Napa winery. However, his work is not yet done. When asked when he knows he has reached his goal, he replies: "You never know when you get there. You just approach."

October 30 2012

Are Happy Days Here Again for Merlot? By Lettie Teague

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A FEW MONTHS ago, I received a note from a reader who asked if I could recommend "some Merlots under $15 a bottle." Alas, I could not. Not because I'd tried and failed to find anything palatable but because I'd given up on the grape. I'd tasted one too many feeble examples (at both high and low prices) and had all but stopped buying—and drinking—Merlot.

And I'm not alone. The wine retailers I contacted told me that their Merlot sales were stable at best and at worst were losing ground. In most cases, Merlot drinkers had simply moved on to other varietals such as Tempranillo and Malbec, according to both Gerald Weisl, owner of Weimax Wines & Spirits in Burlingame, Calif., and Wilfred Wong, cellarmaster of the California-based BevMo chain of stores. At the three Gary's Wine & Marketplace shops in New Jersey, Merlot accounts for a mere 1% of wine sales. It's a "slow" category and not one the chain plans to add to anytime soon, according to manager Chad Watkins.

There's also much less Merlot around—at least in California. According to the San Francisco-based Wine Institute, Merlot acreage in the Golden State has declined precipitously in the past several years. Today, there are over 45,000 acres of Merlot, while in 2006 there were more than 53,000 acres planted to the grape. The news is better for the varietal in Washington state, albeit on a much smaller scale: The state's Merlot acreage has risen to just over 8,000 acres today from 5,000 or so five years ago. (Meanwhile, Cabernet plantings in Washington have doubled—to more than 10,000 acres today from 5,000 in 2006.)

Even some wine producers whose Merlots have regularly received top scores from critics have backed away from the varietal—at least a bit. For example, at the peak of Merlot's popularity a decade ago, Shafer Vineyards was producing around 10,000 cases of its Napa Valley Merlot. Today, it's closer to 8,000 cases, according to Doug Shafer, who nevertheless thinks the Merlot crisis has subsided, if only because "all the guys making subpar Merlot are out of business."

Those "guys" were the brokers who were buying grapes and feeding the speculative frenzy that took place when Merlot was at its late-1990s peak. Other grapes have experienced reversals of fortune, but they've mostly come back (see: Chardonnay) while Merlot seems still stuck. Why hasn't Merlot had a revival? Was the betrayal simply too great?

Merlot first became popular thanks to its texture. Adjectives like "lush" and "soft" were applied so often that nondrinkers might think it was a brand of luxury bedding or towels. But the promise of softness helped to sell Merlot, as did its profile of the "un-Cabernet"—Merlot was pitched as a wine of similar substance but of a more accessible style. (This was before Pinot Noir bested Merlot as an even more popular, even more accessible and yes, even more sensuous red.)

And Merlot also had a great name—approachable-sounding and easy to pronounce. But Merlot was often much less than congenial, especially in the wrong climate or vineyard site. Under poor circumstances and handling (and there was plenty of both when Merlot's popularity was at its peak), Merlot can be thin, green and herbaceous, or quite fiercely tannic—completely lacking the plushness and richness that Merlot drinkers were taught to expect.

The fact is, Merlot is fussy—more so than Cabernet—and it requires a cold soil, preferably clay, to thrive. It's also thin-skinned and ripens fairly early, so it's at risk for problems like rot. Even in places where Merlot does well—the Right Bank of Bordeaux, Tuscany, Napa Valley and certain parts of eastern Washington state, it can be a challenge to get right.

Of course, Merlot is grown in many other parts of the world, too, and is (still) being made by many producers, but Mr. Shafer may have a point—with so much less Merlot around, maybe there's less Merlot that's bad. And so, out of fairness and also because Merlot is still one of the most-planted grapes in the world, I decided to give it one more chance. Maybe I'd find some really good wines—and even help to restore the reputation of a grape that has been unfairly maligned.

I purchased around 25 bottles—wines ranging in price from $8 to $60 a bottle. They came from all over the world, although the majority were from California and Washington, simply because those were the easiest wines to find. I purchased only wines with "Merlot" on the label, though some had permissible small percentages of other grapes blended in. I did slip in a few bottles of Bordeaux that I knew were made entirely from Merlot. (Sadly, that did not include Pétrus but some much simpler wines from the Right Bank.)

Although I tasted most of the wines alone, I did bring along a few Merlots to a dinner with friends. "We used to drink Merlot," said one guest when she saw the bottles. (I assumed she was speaking for herself and her husband and not in the royal third person.) "But we moved on to Malbec and Syrah," she added. "There's more substance—more 'oomph' to those wines," her husband clarified. They decided—rightfully—that none of the wines had very much "oomph," save the rich, full-bodied 2009 Shafer Napa Valley Merlot. It was a Merlot a Malbec drinker could love.

Overall, the results were decidedly mixed. The cheaper Merlots (under $20) were generic at best and at worst tasted like sweet cherry juice. There were, however, two solid exceptions: the pleasant 2010 Bogle Merlot (an excellent deal at $7.50 a bottle) and the plump-textured 2010 Falesco Merlot ($12) from the winemaking wizard Riccardo Cotarella, who has been making this inexpensive Umbrian Merlot since 1999—in addition to many much-pricier reds.

Some well-known names were disappointing—most notably the 2010 Neyers Merlot, which seemed confected and overly ripe, and the 2009 Pride Mountain Merlot, a wine I've often enjoyed in the past but in this vintage was overpowered by oak. The best surprises of all were from Washington—from the bargain-priced 2009 Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells ($18) to a beautifully balanced, truly lush 2009 Seven Hills Winery Seven Hills Vineyard ($30) to the elegant 2007 Northstar ($42), a winery created in 1994 by Chateau Ste. Michelle to specifically showcase Merlot.

The tasting was a useful reminder not only that Merlot can be good, but also that a wine drinker should try not to hold unreasonable prejudices. I only hope that a reader doesn't ask me to recommend a good Pinotage (the rubber-inflected native red wine of South Africa). I just don't think I could endure 25 examples of that.

August 31 2012

Vineyard Buyer Pledges to Make Peace By Jason Chow

An exterior shot of the Château de Gevrey-Chambertin - As China's interest in wine has soared in recent years, mainland investors have snapped up several French vineyards-but the sale of a small Burgundy property to a Chinese millionaire is causing a storm in France. The WSJ's Jake Lee has the details.

Louis Ng, the Macau casino executive who faced a vitriolic backlash in France after he bought a vineyard in Burgundy, says the reaction was "beyond expectations" and is pledging to pour at least €8 million ($10 million) into the estate to restore it to its former glory.

Mr. Ng, a multimillionaire, says he is determined to pacify his new neighbors. In his first interview with the media since the furor erupted in France last week, the chief operating officer of SJM Holdings Ltd., 0880.HK +3.29% the hotels and casino company founded by tycoon Stanley Ho, said the purchase was an "emotional investment."

The 60-year-old Mr. Ng is the leader and largest shareholder of a group of six Hong Kong investors who in May paid €8 million for Château de Gevrey-Chambertin, a run-down 12th-century residence along with 2.3 hectares of vines. A well-known collector among the region's wine lovers, Mr. Ng—who owns 2.3% of SJM Holdings, a stake valued at US$263 million—estimates he owns 250,000 bottles spread among several industrial warehouses in Macau and employs four people to handle his collection.

The deal was completed quietly in May. But when the French media uncovered the Chinese oenophile to be the buyer last week, a backlash ensued in France, with many local farmers and politicians calling on the government to intervene, fearing that wealthy foreign investors would push out the small, artisanal winemakers in the region.

Casino executive Louis Ng, right, and winemaker Eric Rousseau in June.

"Now, I have remedial work. I just want to appease my neighbors," said Mr. Ng over lunch, between sips of a 2003 Drouhin Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche, a Burgundy white wine that is among his favorites. "We don't see this as a moneymaking vehicle," he said. "I don't have a business plan."

Mr. Ng said he intends to spend €8 million on the renovations of the property and has employed a French architect who specializes in historical preservation. Work on the château, with about 10,800 square feet of space, could take as long as three years, Mr. Ng said. He added that he hopes to spend parts of his summer at the mansion after it is redone.

Even French politicians are weighing in on the purchase. French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg, who is from Burgundy, says he is happy to welcome outsiders to the region, where he was for years an elected representative.

"I'm in favor of foreign investment in French agriculture and winemaking, because it helps them shine around the world," Mr. Mountebourg said. For the minister, whose government has pledged to reverse France's nonenergy trade deficit within five years, such investments could also prove helpful from a policy front.

But some local winemakers in France aren't so thrilled with the arrival of a rich outsider. Jean-Michel Guillon, a winemaker who led a group who tried to buy the property for €5 million, is staunchly opposed to the deal, calling on government to intervene. "You can't buy land in China as a foreigner," Mr. Guillon said. "It's logical for us to do the same here in France."

Mr. Guillon insists that the opposition is about economics, not ethnicity. He fears an influx of foreign capital will drive up the price of vineyards and make it difficult for him to pay the transfer tax when he passes his own to his children. The French government bases the transfer tax on the average price of the previous year's real-estate transactions.

Jean-Marie Fourrier, another winemaker in the same village as Mr. Ng's Burgundy estate, said he is also concerned about a spike in vineyard prices. Sixty years ago, a farmer could pay off the price of acquiring a vineyard from the proceeds of one harvest, he said. These days, the same land requires 50 years of work to pay it off. "A lot of younger people don't want to be paying the bank for all of their life," he said.

Other observers contend that Mr. Ng vastly overpaid for the estate, saying it grows mediocre vines in a middling location.

"It's not that the Chinese have stolen from the French, but the French seem to be ripping off the Chinese," said Jasper Morris, a Burgundy wine critic and buyer for Berry Bros. & Rudd in London. "It's not a great property. I wonder why there's such a fuss."

He added that a restoration of the château, which he says is in "very bad condition," would be "a credit to him and the village."

The winemaking will be left to Eric Rousseau, a top Burgundian winemaker, who will lease the land and tend to the vines while giving Mr. Ng one-third of the production, expected to be between 10,000 and 12,000 bottles a year.

In Hong Kong's wine circles, Mr. Ng's new venture is making news. Vincent Cheung, a retired Hong Kong lawyer and a wine collector since the 1980s, called Mr. Ng "one of the biggest collectors in Asia" with "very sophisticated tastes." He called Mr. Ng's purchase a "clever move because it's so rare to have a château on your property in Burgundy." Wine estates with large-scale living quarters are much more likely to be found than in the Bordeaux region than in Burgundy.

Mr. Ng said Hong Kong's wealthiest are congratulating him on the purchase. "The rich tycoons are calling me," he said. "They all say, 'Wow, what a smart buy.' "

August 24 2012 Share

Are you going to San Francisco? California Grapes holds test-run of Beijing wine shop By Jim Boyce

The polished cement floor is meant to evoke San Francisco Bay, the large round lights to evoke the Golden Gate Bridge, the shelves loaded with wine from California to evoke… a desire to open a lot of bottles, at least if last Saturday night was any indication.

rock sake California grapes international sanlitun soho beijing china, California grapes sanlitun soho beijing china and weibel vineyards California sparkliing wines california grapes international beijjing china

California Grapes, a retail shop that will soon open in the Sanlitun Soho complex in Beijing with as many as 300 different products, held a test run last weekend. The official launch should happen in the next week or so and will mean yet another wine bar in an area that has witnessed a steady stream of newcomers over the past few months, including Veloce, Cru, The Loop and Everwines.

I wrote about this wine shop project in March, in this interview with China-based Frank Yglesias of California Grapes International. He says the aim is to keep things simple and accessible, says Yglesias. Skids loaded with boxes of wines serve as table tops, a long and simple white-topped bar will allow imbibers to check wine color, and there are plans to have about 15 wines by the glass.

Bottles start at rmb65 for the label Back Story. I enjoyed the sparkling wine from Domaine Carneros, while the flavored bubbly from Weibel was popular. Flavors include almond, raspberry, pomegranate and peach, a bottle costs ~rmb100, and this stuff might be of interest to the city’s bartenders. So too might the Rock Sake from California that is carried by the shop.

July 24 2012 Share

French winemakers pop their cork at Chinese takeover By Kelly McParland

Nervous about Chinese takeovers in Canada? You’re not alone. French wine-growers in one of the premier areas of Burgundy are upset that the Chateau de Gevrey-Chambertin, which dates from the 12th century, was sold to a Chinese gambling tycoon from Macau over local bidders. The chateau, originally listed at about $4.4 million, eventually sold for more than $11 million, upsetting a local group that had hoped to turn it into a visitor/reception centre. The group offered $10 million and was upset at being squeezed out. “The owners wanted €7m and they sold it for eight. I hope this is not the start of a wave of foreign investors moving into Burgundy,” said Jean-Michel Guillon,president of Gevrey-Chambertin’s winemaker association. “We are starting to say to ourselves that our heritage is going out the window because it is not the only (foreign) purchase we’ve seen in the area.”

However, Bernard Farges, the president of France’s national confederation of wine producers, said the spurned buyers were more upset at the price than the buyer. “I understand their reaction,” Mr Farges said, according to Agence France-Presse. “They are shocked by the terms of the sale – the price. It’s not a case of xenophobia. They just haven’t got used to it yet. Some regions are more closed than others – Alsace doesn’t like outsiders either. In Bordeaux, we have room for everyone.”

The man behind the purchase of a Burgundy winery that has caused an uproar in France has been revealed as Louis Ng Chi-sing, the right-hand man of Macau gambling tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun.

Ng is the chief operating officer of SJM Holdings, a Hong Kong-listed company which oversees 17 casinos in Macau. Its parent company is the Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau, which is privately held by Ho and his family. Ng has worked for them for 34 years.

He bought the 12th-century Chateau de Gevrey-Chambertin in Burgundy's Cote de Nuits this year for €8 million (HK$77.9 million), the Wine Spectator reported. French politicians and winemakers expressed dismay after discovering the winery had been sold to an overseas buyer.

The vineyards remain under lease to three local growers, according to Wine Spectator.

The Gevrey-Chambertin winemakers syndicate had offered to buy the chateau for €5 million but lost out to Ng. The group's president, Jean-Michel Guillon, was not happy.

"I am not angry because the investor is Chinese; it is because priority has not been given to local winemakers. We ask the French government to step up and legislate in order to give priority to the locals," he told the South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583) .

Guillon said a sign appeared at the entrance a few days ago saying: "The chateau is not open to the public any more."

Guillon said: "The castle represents the wealth of our heritage, and it should stay the property of the winemakers."

France's far-right Front National said local winemakers should have been given government help to preserve the national treasure for the country.

Ng is the second Chinese businessman to buy a Burgundy vineyard. Shi Yi, who now lives in Burgundy, bought more than a hectare of vineyards at Vosne-Romanee this year.

Chinese influence in French wine has been growing. Thomas Jullien, the Bordeaux Wine Council's Asia representative, said the number of Bordeaux estates owned by Chinese had grown from two to 25 in three years. "Bordeaux is more open to foreign investments," he said, adding that local veterans were happy with the new owners in general. "New investors have spent money on updating the winemaking facilities, equipment and buildings."

July 23 2012 

Shanghai Police Crack Wine Counterfeiting Ring by Rupert Millar

The Shanghai police department is reported to have smashed a wine counterfeiting gang, seizing thousands of bottles of fake first growths in the process. The six-person gang along with their leader were arrested and police discovered 684 bottles of “Margaux” and 4,000 bottles of “Lafite” worth Y10 million (US$1.6m).

The bottles were not direct copies but so-called “funny” bottles which use the names of the famous estates. Nonetheless, while not direct copies they do infringe trademark laws.

The raid was the culmination of months of groundwork, beginning with a tip-off last spring and preliminary busts which led to a haul of counterfeit labels and bottle caps.

The ringleader confessed to have been running the scam since 2010 and said he used wine from Hebei and Shandong provinces while the corking and packaging and labelling took place in Guangdong, Shangdong and Shanghai.

The wine was then distributed all over China – to at least 10 other provinces including Zhejiang, Jiangsu, Fujian, Hunan and Guangxi – to be sold to unsuspecting consumers.

The wine was priced at Y6,000 to Y7,000 a bottle when it had cost a mere Y80 to produce.

Lafite’s CEO, Christophe Salin, told Wine Spectator that the raid was “exactly” the sort of operation he wanted to see and that there was still a long list of people to investigate “or sue” for similar offences.

The police inspector in charge of the raid, Yang Lieyi, has so far conducted 900 such operations this year arresting over 1,900 people on charges of intellectual property crimes and seized over US$47m in fake goods.

July 8 2012 

China Alcohol drinks sales hit a high By Li Woke

Chinese wine buyers at the annual Vinexpo Asia-Pacific, the region's largest wine and spirits exhibition, in Hong Kong in May. The Chinese market for fine wines and liquor is growing fast in China. The better the quality and brand, the better the sales.

Revenue from selling wine, beer and liquor increase significantly

Thanks to rising demand and per capita disposable income, China's consumption of alcoholic drinks is expected to reach 84.37 billion liters in 2016. That represents an average annual compound growth rate of 5.9 percent from 2012, said Frost & Sullivan, a US-based market consultancy.

Consumption of five major alcoholic drinks, including beer, white wine, rice wine, red wine and imported spirits, surged to 62.72 billion liters last year, compared with 46.52 billion liters in 2007, according to the consultancy.

Red wine is now the most popular alcoholic beverage with a penetration rate of 39 percent, far ahead of that of both white and fortified wines (2 percent). Red wine is closely followed by Chinese liquors (36 percent) and whisky (29 percent), according to a recent report by Ipsos, the Paris-based global market research company.

According to, China wine consumption expenditure reached 45 billion yuan ($7.1 billion) in 2011, becoming fifth in the world in terms of expenditure on wine. Wine imports have a very high rate of growth, expanding by 50 percent annually.

For those who consume red or white wine, the strongest preference is for wine from France, although there is a growing demand for wine from Australia too, Ipsos said.

In addition to the boom in wine consumption, Chinese liquors have sold very well in recent years.
Consumption of bottled white spirits in China has increased at a compound annual growth rate of 20 percent over the past five years, according to data from the National Statistics Bureau.

In 2010, the output of the Chinese liquor industry reached 8.91 million tons, with a year-on-year jump of 26 percent. Sales revenue of the industry was 242.16 billion yuan, with a year-on-year growth of 31 percent. In 2011, output of Chinese liquor was more than 10 million tons and sales reached 300 billion yuan.

Moutai producer Kweichow Moutai, based in Southwest China's Guizhou province, generated an estimated 16.8 billion yuan in revenue in 2011, an annual increase of 66 percent. Wuliangye Yibin, based in Yibin, in Southwest China's Sichuan province, reported 20.2 billion yuan in revenue in 2011. This is expected to grow 33.2 percent to 26.9 billion yuan in 2012, according to Bloomberg News.

"The market for fine wine and liquor is growing fast in China. The better the quality and brand, the better the sales. I believe the country's market will be robust for the next five or 10 years as wealth continues to grow," said Lu Fan, a wine trader in Beijing.

Frost & Sullivan listed several reasons for the jump in consumption.

First, overall demand in China has surged alongside the country's fast economic development.

Second, government policies have been encouraging and supportive. In December last year, the Ministry of Commerce issued guidance on strengthening the management and circulation of alcoholic drinks during the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15), which further benefited the manufacturers as well as the whole industry.

Third, the tariff on imported spirits was lowered.

After China entered the World Trade Organization in 2001, tariffs on imported wine dropped from about 37.5 percent in 2002. Import tariffs on bottled wine decreased from 65 percent in 2000 to 14 percent now. The lowered tariffs can provide a bigger profit margin for wine companies, which could be used to promote the market's development.

"Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland have been very exciting markets over the past years. The growth of my business here has been extremely strong," said Lu.

In order to develop in the expanding market, major international alcohol companies including Pernod Ricard, Remy Martin and Diageo have set up branches in the world's second-largest economy.

"The rapid development of the Chinese alcoholic drinks market, especially in the past eight years, was mainly pulled by high-end products," said a report from China International Capital Corp.

The Frost & Sullivan report is optimistic about the future of the Chinese spirits industry and mentioned two major drivers of the business.
First, there is growing liquor demand in third- and fourth-tier cities.

As people's living standards improve and the gap between rich and poor narrows, liquor-retailing giants are optimistic about the growth potential in these cities. Some liquor retailing chains have set up stores in these cities using their strong resources, good reputation, strong brand influence and cooperation with local partners.

Second, there are new distribution patterns.

In recent years, distribution channels of alcoholic drinks have developed rapidly. Besides the traditional ways, such as restaurants, supermarkets and cigarette and wine stores, e-commerce has exploded.

"In the future, as competition in the industry gets more and more intensified, it's inevitable that margin growth will slide and there will be overcapacity in the market," said the China International Capital Corp report.

July 1 2012 Share

US wine's potential in China uncorked By Chen Jia

A Shenyang delegation visits the Sorelle Winery vineyard in California's Central Valley.

"Chinese consumers pay a lot of attention to labeling and packaging," says Johnson Choi, President of iWinery Hong Kong "California Life Style" wines. "Chinese consumers lack wine knowledge and they rely on packaging to get more of a branding message, especially about US wines," Choi says.

American wineries are putting a greater effort in marketing to the Chinese palate - Thanks to the booming Chinese middle class and its disposable income and preference for high quality imported red wines, California vintners are starting to cash in across the Pacific.

"We export 10,000 cases (12 750-milliliter bottles per case) of red wine to China every year," says Scott Parker, a project manager at Oak Ridge Winery in Lodi, a city known as the center of wine production in California's Central Valley. Lodi, dubbed the "Zinfandel capital of the world", grows more wine grapes than Napa and Sonoma counties combined and is known for its good, moderately priced wines.

Oak Ridge, with 600,000 cases of production a year, exports mostly to European countries such as Switzerland, Denmark and Finland. Steve Merritt, its China marketing person, says the winery has already developed Chinese business partners in major cities including Guangzhou, Fujian and Harbin, and is seeking new opportunities to develop additional distribution channels.

"We see the huge market potential in China, and we are ready to go," Merritt says.

Before 9 am on a recent Friday morning, Parker and Merritt arrived at a Lodi exhibition hall with their sales materials, bottles of red wine, corkscrew, tablecloth and an export price list. They and a dozen other local winery owners prepared elaborate booths to welcome a nine-member delegation from direct wine importers in Shenyang. Jenise Vierra, a Lodi vintner with her own brand St. Jorge, dressed up in red, a lucky color in Chinese culture.

Shenyang is the capital and largest city of Northeast China's Liaoning province, where people are famous for a culture of "toasting", in which alcohol plays a central role in work and business.

"This is a real opportunity," says Frank Gayaldo, volunteer director of international business development with the Lodi chamber of commerce. "These are real buyers who have been vetted by the US Agricultural Trade Office."

According to data from the Chamber of Commerce, 86 percent of retail wine purchases are under $7 in China but a premium market exists and is expanding. The retail price of imported California wine is usually more than 150 yuan ($24, 18.6 euros) per bottle, it said, almost three times the price for the same vintage in the United States.

To better inform Lodi wineries about their potential customers, the Shenyang delegation prepared a detailed profile of Chinese wine consumers: 30-40 years old, urban, male, from upper-middle income families.

"Their purchases account for 75 percent of the sales in total, and they believe it is good for health," the description says. "Imported wines convey status, lifestyle and sophistication, and are often given as gifts."

Imports of red wine from France and Italy began earlier and have been established in the Chinese market for years, while American red wine is only now securing recognition in the biggest cities, Beijing and Shanghai. That's according to Rex Zhang, marketing specialist for the Agricultural Trade Office at the US Consulate in Shenyang, who accompanied the delegates.

"American wineries and wine associations haven't paid enough attention to the China market before and they underestimated its market sophistication," Zhang says.

According to the Global Trade Atlas, French reds accounted for 52 percent of China's imported-wine market in 2011, followed by wines from Australia (15 percent) and Chile (7.2 percent).

The Chinese market share for American wine is less than 5 percent, Zhang says.

"More than 80 percent of wine made in the US was sold in the domestic market, so they didn't care too much about exploring overseas markets in the past," he explains.

But wholesale demand from US restaurants for wine has decreased amid economic doldrums of recent years, helping fuel wineries' interest in overseas customers.

Zhang says promoting American wine in China will top the agenda for his office in the future. Agricultural trade offices are generally attached to US embassies and consulates and tasked with introducing and promoting various US agricultural commodities, such as soy, corn, cotton, meat, seafood, fruit and wood.

In Northeast China, white liquor, or baijiu, and beer are common, but wine's popularity is limited to a small group of affluent people who have started paying attention to their health in recent years, he says.

Overall, China's wine market will likely maintain double-digit annual growth over the next three years, says Zhang Tiejun, president of the US-China Business and Culture Association.

"Currently 70 percent of wines on the market are domestic brands, and 30 percent are imported," he says. "California represents 90 percent of the wine industry in the US, and the vintners here have begun to realize the importance of the Chinese market."

China accounts for nearly 10 percent of world grape production, and 1.2 million acres designated as vineyards in 2009.

More than 500 domestic wineries are in operation - Chinese brands of Changyu, Great Wall and Dynasty account for 60 percent of the market.

China has risen to become the world's second-largest economy. And as the US Department of Agriculture has estimated, the country is on track to produce an additional 235 million middle-class consumers by 2020.

By 2015, China will be the No 1 global market for luxury goods, according to a 2010 report by McKinsey Insights China.

But to win the Chinese market, US vintners still have to learn more about their potential customers.

Andy Hicks, director of wine sales and marketing of CalNaturale, in the Central Valley, brought his vintages in Tetra-Pak flexible containers to the Lodi exhibition booth and figured the offerings would be popular in China. Instead, he learned a lesson from the visitors.

"My wine represents the very latest in high-quality wine making and innovation marketing in the US," Hicks says. "The grapes used to produce the wine are certified as having been farmed organically."

"It is good value, lightweight and very environmentally friendly," he adds.

However, Hicks was advised to change the wine's packaging, which one delegate described as resembling a "cheap soft drink".

Zhang was accompanied at the Lodi event by his son-in-law, Jerry Chen, who concurred. "Chinese consumers lack wine knowledge and they rely on packaging to get more of a branding message, especially about US wines," Chen says.

June 29 2012 Share

New Study Could Prove Effectiveness of Screw Caps - UC Davis and PlumpJack Group team up to test quality and ageability of screw cap closures on wine By Augustus Weed

Scientists at UC Davis are using a CT scanner to measure the density of various cork compositions.

The University of California at Davis is conducting a new study that could help end the debate on whether screw cap closures are as effective as natural corks when it comes to aging wine. The university is working with the PlumpJack Group, a wine and hospitality company, cofounded by billionaire philanthropist Gordon Getty and California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, to assess the quality and aging potential of different closures. The goal is to provide direction for the industry so vintners can make informed decisions about what to use on their bottles.

The two-year study will analyze wines under three different types of closures—screw caps, synthetic corks and natural corks. The test group, which consists of 200 bottles of Cade Sauvignon Blanc 2011, will be monitored every few months using a spectrometer to detect changes in color. The wines will also be chemically analyzed using oxygen sensors placed inside the bottles. The sensors allow the university to measure how a wine is aging without opening it. The wines that show differences will be opened at the end of the study and tasted to determine if the quality has been compromised.

The study will determine the range of differences in each closure group, specifically, how much oxygen has been allowed into the bottles. When oxygen interacts with a wine it causes it to oxidize, changing its color and taste. Corks and screw caps limit the amount of air a wine is exposed to, preventing it from aging prematurely. "It's really a variability study," said Dr. Andrew Waterhouse, professor of viticulture and enology at UC Davis. "We want to see how different they can be between themselves."

This is not the first scientific study to be conducted on screw caps (see sidebar) but it does employ new technology. PlumpJack used a CT scanner to measure the permeability of the natural and synthetic corks to eliminate potential flaws. "For this study we chose the best corks, the least permeable corks, so that we have a very even playing field for all three closures," said John Conover, general manager at PlumpJack and Cade wineries in Napa.

PlumpJack became interested in comparing screw caps to corks after the company's founders questioned why it was OK for even a small percentage of its wine to be damaged because of the closure. According to Conover they were frustrated with the percentage of wines affected by TCA (2, 4, 6-trichloroanisole). "We work so hard to grow the grapes and make the wine, and then to have it ruined because of the closure for us was unacceptable," he said.

TCA is at the center of the debate on alternative closures. Proponents of screw caps point to its ability to eliminate the potential for "corky" wines. But opponents consider the closure to be inferior to traditional corks for aging.

The company, which owns two wineries in Napa as well as two hotels, a wine shop and several restaurants, has been conducting in-house studies on the aging potential of screw caps for years. Starting with the 1997 vintage it has been bottling half of its PlumpJack Reserve Cabernet Sauvignons under screw cap. But it decided to approach UC Davis because it wanted an independent body to assess the closures.

It remains to be seen whether the study will support the case for screw caps; the results will not be published until 2013. And many vintners are still finding it hard to market screw caps to consumers. But Conover said a younger generation of wine drinkers is willing to embrace alternative closures. "For us as a company we have received very little resistance from our customers with screw caps," he said.

June 28 2012 Share

Cantonese has met its match - Wine lovers abandon outdated concepts when pairing East with West By Vicki Williams

Clockwise from top left: steamed dumplings; egg tarts topped with bird's nest; roast duck; steamed chicken; braised beef brisket with noodles.

According to a survey released last week customers at Hong Kong's top 65 restaurants can choose from an average of 270 wines, more than half of them French. Some 40 per cent of those wines will be from Burgundy and Bordeaux while five of the top 10 producers are from Champagne.

The survey, by digital wine list developer Entaste also reveals that Hong Kong restaurateurs don't like sweet wines - only 60 per cent carried any at all and of those that were carried more than half are priced at HK$4,000 or more and a quarter at HK$16,000 or more.

It seems that the restaurateurs are more conservative than their customers when matching food and wine.

Master of wine Debra Meiburg says, "We've noticed a gradual shunning of traditional Western ideas about pairing and increasing experimentation. Pairing wine with Asian cuisines is still a very young field, but its proponents are starting to feel confident enough in their own palates to move beyond the tenets of Western pairing and the commercially motivated suggestions of winemakers to discover for themselves which combinations amplify the dining experience and which are to be avoided."

The new-found adventurousness is a far cry from when Hongkongers first started drinking wine in numbers, in the 1990s.

One of the influences of British rule in Hong Kong was the wine pairing philosophy of the time. A rudimentary approach of white wine with fish or chicken, red with beef, and a sickly sweet wine with dessert, which expats applied to the local cuisine despite it often being an inappropriate match. Hong Kong Chinese did not begin to drink wine until the '70s and then it was only a handful of overseas-educated Chinese. The favored Western tipple, from the '60s through to early '90s, to pair with Cantonese food by the locals was cognac, and of course beer, with the former only drunk on special occasions or when wanting to impress. As a result, there was little change in habits until recently.

"The cliche of drinking cognac with Cantonese food is true, especially at Chinese wedding banquets, with a bottle of XO placed on each table, but that has changed a hell of a lot in the last 20 years," says Simon Tam, Christie's head of wine, China. The change began in the early '90s when more Hong Kong Chinese began to drink red wine for its health benefits, coupled with more wine exposure (through travel, work or expat friends). It came to be seen as a status symbol to rival cognac, with a preference for high-end reds from Bordeaux.

Red wines' textures and tannins are claimed to match Cantonese cuisine.

Peter Gago, chief winemaker for Australian producer Penfolds, who has travelled to Hong Kong for business many times since the mid-90s, thinks the red preference is tied into tea. "The Chinese celebrate a tea-drinking culture, perhaps the preference has arisen from tannins, which are also present in tea."

"One might suggest that Chinese cuisine is one of many textures, and that red wines generally have more robust texture. There are a number of Cantonese dishes that might be complemented by white wines but there are some historic barriers, notably a resistance to cold drinks, thought to disrupt digestion," says Amanda Parker, general manager of Berry Bros. & Rudd's Fine Wine Centre. Wine producers from Alsace have tried a number of times to introduce a shift in the wine pairing scene to the region's whites. They first tried to promote their dry rieslings and aromatic gewürztraminers as perfect matches about 12 years ago. The push largely failed, especially with gewürztraminer, due to a lack of understanding of the cuisine. They spoke of the wines being a great match for spicy food by balancing out the heat, although spiciness is not a hallmark of Cantonese cuisine.

Armed with increased knowledge about the cuisine, another push about five years ago was more successful, especially with rieslings, but still failed to sway local wine drinkers away from their beloved reds.

Meiburg says, "Cantonese food doesn't need full-bodied whites to balance it out. Its delicate flavours are usually overwhelmed when served with round, full-flavoured wines."

The most recent change in the pairing story has two parts. On the one hand, there is an increasing number of people with knowledge of the cuisine drinking more wine, with some becoming experts. This has led to an increase in wine columns in Chinese-language publications. The writers are able to use their knowledge of both the food and wine to educate drinkers on how to go about selecting wine pairings. Gago says: "There has been a solid interest in fine wine in Hong Kong for some time. It is more overt now than a decade ago, especially with the increase in Asian wine critics writing articles and books on food and wine pairing. For example, Jeannie Cho Lee's Asian Palate, Lau Chi Sun's Wine Now magazine and Simon Tam's app, Flavour Colours."

Second, the lowering of the wine duty to zero in 2008 meant a wider selection of wines on the market. Wine drinkers began to experiment with pairings and in response Chinese restaurants began to offer the diner more choices, including wines by the glass. Some outlets employed sommeliers. Wine dinners became popular as a way to learn more and winemakers began to understand more about the nuances of the cuisine and which of their wines actually work with Cantonese food.

There has also been an increase in wine auctions, which Tam feels is facilitating a renaissance in drinking wine with Cantonese cuisine. "Wine auctions are bringing to the market the best wines, not the most expensive but the best, including wines that were not previously available. Cantonese cuisine has stayed largely the same but what has evolved is the availability of wine."

Acquire your own taste: red, white or even two at a time

Master of wine Jeannie Cho Lee has a top five list for pairing with Cantonese food: new world pinot noir, premier cru Burgundy red, Loire valley whites, German whites and non-vintage champagne. With regards to banquets, she says because of the sequencing of dishes the best option is "to serve two wines at a time: a red and a versatile white or sparkling wine. This also offers the diner the opportunity to experiment matching the two wines with different dishes."

Peter Gago patriotically suggests the Australian grenache shiraz mourvedre (GSM) blend or shiraz on its own, neither aged in new oak. He's also a fan of Adelaide Hills chardonnay and gewürztraminer.

Amanda Parker says typical contemporary matches are a crisp chardonnay from Adelaide Hills with dim sum, a red Burgundy with Peking duck, and a Beerenauslese, a late-harvest wine from Germany, with desserts, such as egg tarts. Parker says that, when selecting only one wine to match multiple dishes, the crux is in choosing a versatile wine with characteristics to match the range and style of food. "Pinot noir is often a popular choice as it generally has good fruit concentration, doesn't display overly high tannins and has good acidic balance. There's enough character in the wine to complement beef dishes, good acidity to complement stir-fried dishes that have a high oil content, and is not so powerful that it would overwhelm fish dishes."

Debra Meiburg thinks a Cantonese meal is far too complicated to try to pair a wine to every dish. "The idea should be to pick a single special dish on the table - for example, braised abalone - to match with the wine and serve that dish with that wine; particularly for whites with little oak influence, the wine should still be able to pair to a greater or lesser degree with most courses on the table. For the rest of the courses, there is tea."

Meiburg's pairing philosophy centres on the sauces. "Chinese cuisine, which tends to be strongly sauce and garnish driven, calls for a pairing system that looks first at the sauce that forms the flavour base of the dish," she says. For lighter, aromatic sauces, she suggests lighter white wines that are dry or very lightly off-dry such as riesling or light-bodied grüner veltliners. Reds, such as pinot- and grenache-based wines she says usually fare well with darker soy-based sauces and black bean sauces. For lovers of French red wines, she suggests wines from Burgundy over Bordeaux, which tend to match only with the darkest and richest sauces.

"Gewürztraminer can actually be paired with Cantonese dishes that have enough flavour intensity to stand up to this bombshell." This includes dishes with sauces such as oyster, hoisin and chilli.

Simon Tam says: "There is no rule that says you can't have more than one glass at a time. I often serve more than one wine at the same time for a Cantonese banquet." He also has a novel pairing approach. "We eat seasonally in Hong Kong, so I feel pairing should be seasonal, too."

For example, steamed chicken eaten in summer is a natural pairing with a summery wine such as a riesling; in winter, when it would be natural to eat braised brisket, the seasonal pairing is a warm, rich wine, such as an aged cabernet sauvignon. This led him to develop his Flavour Colours app, which divides dishes and wine into four colors (blonde, ivory, tan and brown). Diners simply match the dish colour with wines of the same color. "A blonde wine is a fruity sauvignon blanc and a blonde dish is stir-fried scallops with ginger."

While these are some guidelines, the experts say don't be afraid to have fun and experiment. If it doesn't work, try something else.

June 22 2012 Share

納帕 索諾瑪 加州酒鄉


The French Laundry享用法國餐、日啖納帕谷的Opus One紅酒、在納帕谷葡萄園環繞的山頂別墅度週末等。當然這只是一種誇張的形容,旨在突顯納帕谷的迷人之處。

(Napa Valley)和索諾瑪谷(Sonoma Valley)是度假者返璞歸真、享受田園生活的天堂。當地物產豐富,美酒佳餚,豐儉由人,從私人包機到人力自行車,均能找到自己的喜好。

釀酒源起十八世紀 品質上乘比美歐陸

50哩之外,索諾瑪谷地在左,納帕谷地在右,隔山相鄰,是加州葡萄酒最負盛名的二個產地,出產的葡萄酒以紅酒之王Cabernet Sauvignon和白酒Chardonnay兩種酒最出名,品質比起法國原產地毫不遜色,是愛好葡萄酒人士的心頭好,酒瓶上加上NAPA字樣,已成好酒的象徵。

18世紀晚期,歐裔移民發現當地土壤、氣候很適合葡萄生長與葡萄酒的釀造,既有漫長、光照充足的乾熱白天,賦予葡萄濃郁的風味,也有涼爽晴朗的夜晚,使葡萄保有酸度,加上日夜溫差大,雨量稀少,土壤富含多種礦物質,是極佳的葡萄種植環境。當地現有大小酒莊、葡萄園數百家,大的如Kendall-Jackson, Beaulieu Vineyards(BV),等等,是跨國集團式經營,更多的是家族式經營,如Castello di Amorosa, Domaine Carneros, Mumm Napa等等數以百計,爭奇鬥艷,一個比一個精彩。


蒙達維(Robert Mondavi)這位傳奇人物,他被譽為現代加酒葡萄酒之父,地位崇高。雖然從18世紀納帕就開始產葡萄酒,但由於好的葡萄酒長期以來就是由法國葡萄酒主宰天下,直至60年代這位羅伯蒙達維的出現,這一情形才有改觀。他家族在納帕做釀酒事業,1968年他成功改良Sauvignon Blanc的葡萄品種,重新命名為Fume Blanc,一炮而紅,深獲世人喜愛,隨後他陸續推出世界級的Cabernet Sauvignon紅酒,帶領加州葡萄酒在世界舞台上出頭,發揚光大。以他自己名字命名的Robert Mondavi酒莊是納帕標誌性的酒莊,是好酒之人必至的朝聖之地,雖然他已過世多年,酒莊亦已出售給國際企業經營,但他的巨幅照片卻依然每天在迎接著客人,受大家頂禮膜拜。

品酒賞景二合一 挑選酒莊懂取捨

Spa Hopping等等,都適合。但由於實在太多好飲好玩好食之處,行前一定要做好計劃。


Benziger酒莊,這個家族式酒莊是實行有機和永續性耕作方法種植葡萄的先驅之一,全園均是Certified Biodynamic。他們提供葡萄園導覽,坐遊覽車繞行一周,令人賞心悅目,他們講解有機農業的種種挑戰,解釋如何善用食物鏈各個環節的關係,如在他們山上盤旋的一隻老鷹是如何幫他們驅趕偷食葡萄的鳥兒等,引人入勝。



Artesa 酒莊,就建在山坡之上,方圓數十哩的風光盡收眼底。酒莊本身就是一個藝術及園藝宮殿,內收藏不少大型藝術品供參觀,360度的景觀更令人流連忘返。北部的Sterling Wineyards酒莊亦是一著名的觀光地,出產的酒很有名,酒莊建在半山之中,要靠纜車才能上去,但上山的過程及在上面遠眺品酒的感覺令人心擴神怡。

June 15 2012 Share



Yes, Hong Kong is a wine producing country but not a grape growing country. Here, imported grapes from Bordeaux are being turned into top quality wines by The 8th Estate Winery and wines from grapes in the Rouge Valley, Oregon, are created by Portrait Winery and Distillery. iWinery Hong Kong® will be producing top quality "California Life Style®" wines using only best quality grapes from California.

The novelty status the wines once held has worn off and decent wines are being produced and can now be found on local restaurant wine lists and shop shelves across the city. A newly arrived company called MY Wine is also promoting selfmade wine that they will help you to make and then cellar for you while it ferments.

Expect to see more locally made wines on dinner tables around the territory soon.


Bordeaux has traditionally been the red wine of choice in Hong Kong and held the mantle of most popular wine here for decades; that was until December 2011 when Burgundy became the flavour of the town. However, top end Burgundy is fast falling out of favour with the recent arrest of alleged fraudster Rudy Kurniawan earlier this year.

Comments made by Laurent Ponsot of Domaine Ponsot have not helped the region as he noted that 80 percent of pre-1980 Burgundy wines sold at auction are fake.

Fortunately the rise in production of fake wines in mainland China has yet to affect the local Hong Kong market for Bordeaux and positive customer sentiment for these wines still stands strong.


Hong Kong is a small city where social media networks are a part of day-to-day life. Recently wine lovers have begun buying and selling wine to each other through the social media network Facebook.

Avid lovers of back vintage wine put messages up in Facebook groups and share the purchase of wines that they only want one or two bottles of but that require a minimum order of one dozen.

The propensity for fraud is minimal as crime is low in Hong Kong and the fact that most local wine lovers know each other and see one another at the numerous tastings that happen daily around the city.

The Facebook wine sales phenomenon is set to get bigger and bigger in Hong Kong for sure.


Red wine has always held the majority of market share in Hong Kong but the recent “revelation” that white wines actually pair better with Chinese food has seen an upsurge in the consumption of white wine.

Aromatic styles have seen the largest growth with Rieslings from New Zealand and Germany making the largest headway as their delicate flavours pair well with the diversity of the local cuisine.

Chablis has always fared well due to the popularity of full bodied wines but as people are becoming more aware of the importance of flavour and taste, the swing has been made towards lighter whites with unoaked Chardonnays leading in the Chardonnay category.


According to some wine distributors, around Hong Kong purchases of wine by restaurants has slowed down in recent months while private client sales have risen accordingly.

Hong Kong has always been a notoriously expensive country and the mark ups on wine do nothing to diminish this reputation. With the transparency of wine prices via the internet becoming more apparent, people in Hong Kong are shunning the overpriced wine on many local wine lists and going straight to the importers themselves.

There is no “Bring Your Own” culture here; in fact it’s actively discouraged. Also, due to extortionate corkage fees, people are choosing not to drink wine in restaurants. They either get the eating out of the way and then enjoy a bottle of wine with friends in a members club (where the wine prices are subsidised by membership fees) or just drink their wine at home.


The popularity of Italian wine is ever increasing in Hong Kong with the easy availability of back vintages and the growing interest in wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco.

With the abundance of five star hotels in the city, many of which have Italian restaurants attached to them, there is a growing demand for wines that match that style of food. Recent auctions here by Ornellaia, Michele Chiarlo and Italian auction house Gelardini and Romani has sparked local interest in the wines.

Essentially Italian wines are considered a safer buy and are much more affordable than their counterparts from Bordeaux and Burgundy as there is little to no speculation on the price of the wines.

There is also a growing culture of pairing Chinese food with Italian wines.


Studying to be a Master of Wine takes a lot of time, hard work and money – the latter being something that is not in short supply in Hong Kong.

The success of locally dwelling Masters of Wine Debra Meiburg and Jeannie Cho Lee has fuelled popularity in taking the course and there are currently eight people studying for the qualification locally.

Two of these students will be sitting the examination this summer.

With an almost 200% year on year increase in enrolment in the WSET programme, Hong Kong people are looking for bigger and better qualifications to get ahead in this city where wine knowledge is seemingly more important than the actual consumption of the beverage. We wait with baited breath to see who will be the first Chinese person to complete and pass the MW exam.


There has been a noticeable rise in blogging in the territory with people sharing their knowledge and experiences of wine online for others to read and learn from.

The ease of setting up personalised blog sites now means more and more people, even the less tech-savvy, are able to tell people about what’s going on within the wine culture of Hong Kong.

Bloggers are able to reach out to both locals and expatriates in multilingual formats with blogs such as Red Wine World,, Wine Times Hong Kong, Tersina Wine Journal and The House of Fine Wine reaching more and more readers, not only locally but around the world, bringing wine communities closer and letting people on other continents know what’s happening in Hong Kong.


Hong Kong has long been a place where digital technology has been at the forefront of the way of life and this goes for wine too.

With the advent of the smart phone, the word “app” is well and truly a part of modern day language and wine apps are becoming more prevalent in local society. A supermarket released an app late last year which enables you to scan the bottle of wine on the shop shelf and have the wines info sent to your phone. The app also gives details of instore promotions and you can search for specific wines in a specific store.

Newly released app Wine2Go allows people to search a wine or spirit based on easy to understand attributes such as occasion, taste, origin, and price while also searching for the nearest convenient location to purchase said item. It also incorporates a membership programme that allows members to gain rewards and discounts on purchases.

For food and wine pairing there is also an app called Flavour Colours which highlights wine pairings with Chinese food, so when at a Chinese restaurant and at a loss of what wine to order with the food, the app makes it much easier for you to choose.


Vinexpo Asia Pacific takes place this year in Hong Kong, with the annual Restaurant and Bar Show following in September; then Wine and Dine occurs in the first week of November before the annual Hong Kong Trade Development Council Wine & Spirits Fair rounds off the year’s programme.

Aside from these major events, wine dinners happen on a daily basis in Hong Kong with visiting winemakers in attendance and this trend looks set to increase as local wine importers strive to outdo each other.


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