What and how to drink? Educating the Chinese consumer about wine

In recent weeks I have discussed the Chinese Wine market and its potential for wine companies around the world. I have also discussed the challenges that are posed to wine companies entering the Chinese wine market for the first time (see my article on Understanding the Chinese Wine market: http://wp.me/pS6DN-1G ). The education of the Chinese wine consumer is critical to opening up the China to Wine, and ultimately creating a larger wine market. Wine education is therefore a long run project in China and so wine companies, distributors and even provincial governments are taking innovative approaches to this challenge. On a recent trip to China, I had the pleasure of being invited to a “wine tasting” that was put on by a local Chinese wine merchant, to show off his European and Australian wines. This wine tasting was in a purpose-built wine presentation room, with cellared wine in cabinets on all the walls of the room. At the tasting were all the powerbrokers of the local communist party and government, and they were seated in rank order along long rectangle tables facing the lectern at the front of the room. The guests were all introduced to the wines one by one, and a plate of food was served with each wine to show the matching qualities of food with wine. Throughout the tasting, each glass was sipped and savoured not shot.  This was all part of the education process, and seemed to be a great success. Unsurprisingly however, after the formal presentation of wines, everyone got up and did the networking thing, where toasts or “gan bei” was the order of the day….I guess some drinking habits die hard.

Another wine initiative is in Qingdao, Shandong province, which is a city on the coast of China about half way between Beijing and Shanghai. The initiative is interesting for it is a local government initiative designed at introducing the Chinese consumer to wine. Qingdao is a popular beachside resort, and in summer the city population can swell to nearly 20 million people.  It is also home to China’s most famous beer – Tsingtao, and was a former German concession in years gone by.  To help promote wine to the Chinese consumer, the Qingdao government have created “Wine Street”. Wine street is a one stop wine education and promotion centre, replete with Mine museum, wine distributors and restaurants showcasing wine.  The Qingdao Wine Museum has been built in a disused Mao era nuclear fallout shelter built underground, and takes advantage of some of the nearly 2000square meters of floors space in the tunnels to show people the history of wine.  It is like Disneyland for Wine, and showcases different wine regions from around the world, not just Europe. What a great promotional idea!

Across the road from the entrance to the Qingdao Wine Museum are 17 wine distributors shop fronts, all designed around a “traditional” European storefront facade, and inside the distributors showcase their wine with displays, tasting rooms and other paraphernalia. These wine distributors showcase many wines from around the world, and if nothing else, will help to build awareness of wine regions beyond old world wines in France and Italy. Next to the Wine museum is a series of restaurants which only stock wine from the various wine distributors. This is solely aimed at helping to cross promote the distributors, but as an added bonus it also helps to educate the consumer about wine as an appropriate accompaniment to food.

These wine education measures that are taking place across China are great news for International wine companies looking to introduce their wine brands to the Chinese domestic market. All that is required is that a market entry, promotional and distribution strategy can be tailored to the specific needs of the Chinese consumer so that ultimately there is a success. If you build wine awareness – They will come.

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