(This post is the Executive Summary of the report “Who are Today’s WINE Opinion Leaders in China?” exclusively available to clients of VitaBella Luxury Wine).
It’s a fact, today the great names in wine need to have a presence all around the world. Take for example two well-known names in Riesling: Dr Loosen (Mosel) and Famille Hugel (Alsace). In 2015 they are both present in a hundred or so countries. And, as Etienne Hugel points out in this article that appeared yesterday, it’s now essential to be in Asia. Since 2004 VitaBella has advised chateaux, wine estates and brands on their international development strategy, and if there is one market which is still a source of much concern for the clients that we advise it is most certainly China. I don’t mean Hong Kong, where the competition is ever increasing, but mainland China with its big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and many others. When people talk to me about China many of them say the same thing – over and above the question of the potential of this huge market: “We receive many Chinese visitors, and they all give the impression of being important, but we don’t know who is really important…Who do you think are the most influential critics in China?”
The answer is complicated. Why? First of all because the market is in constant evolution. There was even a moment of ‘madness’ when there was an over-abundance of Food & Wine magazines everywhere. This stage has now passed, and many of them have disappeared, but new ‘experts’ spring up each year in this immense country. And if English language wine magazines are no longer allowed to be published in mainland China, the principal sources of information in Chinese are gaining credibility (Tastespirit, RVF, Wine In China, Vinehoo, etc.) allowing targeted access to wine connoisseurs and professionals. However, the answer is also complicated because wine culture in mainland China is in the process of developing and so today it is still too early to talk about wine critics, in the sense of a Chinese Robert Parker for example.
What’s more, it’s a mistake to target only wine journalists since today it is necessary to look at a much wider group, the “Opinion Leaders”, professionals with huge influence on the wine industry in China. They can be Wine Directors or Food and Beverage Managers for example, or sommeliers in the big hotels and prestigious restaurants who, although they are not journalists as such, are known for their expertise and therefore wield much influence. Social media sites such as Weibo or WeChat have their own leaders and influencers, who are also often sommeliers. And lastly, we should not forget the educators, who teach an ever-wider public interested in wine and its secrets. All of these may have multiple roles, often also writing as journalists, and are certainly today’s and probably tomorrow’s influencers. Some of them will have spent a few years in France, Italy or even America, visiting the major estates or working within editorial teams specialising in wine, in order to better understand and then export this expertise to their home country (A detailed list of Opinion Leaders can be found in the report “Who are Today’s WINE Opinion Leaders in China?”).
For if things have evolved incredibly fast over the space of just a few years, wine culture is still in its infancy in mainland China. Since my first visit to Shanghai in 1994, my passion for fine Chinese tea (Longjin, Oolong and Pu-erh for example) has never ceased to grow, but the culture of tea is far from being developed in the west. Do you prepare your Wu Yi Oolong rock tea in Gong fu cha ceremony style? Chinese tea lovers do so regularly… and the day that you do too will no doubt see a large part of the Chinese population drinking wine knowledgeably and regularly. But until that happens we have a long way to go… a very long way…
(*Since 2003, Guillaume Jourdan has been advising more than 200 prestigious wine estates for their international marketing & communication strategy incl. Chapoutier, Hugel, Dr Loosen, Famille Perrin, Cos d’Estournel, Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie’s Miraval…Write to firstname.lastname@example.org)