Category: Wine markets

Q&A with Carlos Serrano from Vina Montes

carlos-serranoCarlos Serrano is the Commercial Director for Vina Montes and manages the global strategy for Montes brands including Vina Montes, Kaiken, Napa Angel and Star Angel. Here, he talks about Montes’ experience of working in Asia.

What’s your view of the Asian market right now?

In general, Asia is growing and willing to drink more and better wines. We have been in the market for almost two decades; our name is known among those consumers willing to pay more for quality.

However, Asia is very big and there are different market realities. China is very different from Japan, Korea, Vietnam, etc. China in the year 2013 was difficult but improved a bit in 2014. Japan has been booming for Montes and Korea is growing at a slower speed. I would say the more open markets for Chilean wines are between Japan and Korea. Our wines have been there for a long time and with very good reputation for quality.

How would you compare this with the European or American market?

Chilean wines in the USA have been part of the scenario for a long time. In many Asian markets Chilean wines are still being introduced. This is not the case for Japan and Korea but in many other markets, including China where, in T2 and T3 cities, Chilean wines are just starting to be known.

What’s Montes’ strategy in Asia?

montes-zapallarWe have been following the same strategy for many years – quality, quality, quality. Not only in the wines but also in the service to our importers as well as a relationship with them that includes trips to each market from Chile. In China we do have a Brand Manager that lives in Shanghai; we also visit two or three times a year from Chile.

What’s your biggest challenge?

Our biggest challenge is wine education. With today’s wine supply it is common to see a lot of wines at very low prices. We produce quality wines and cannot offer cheap prices. It is vital for a winery like us that people can identify between a good and an “easy drinking” wine and then be willing to pay more for the better one. We work with both importers and consumers on this.

There’s a pressure for winemakers to make wines for food. Are Montes’ wines geared for the Asian market in the same way?

We do not have special wines for a specific market. All our wines, from the same range, have the same philosophy, wine making, etc. What is real is that in Asia, consumers prefer some grape varieties more than others depending on the market – again, Asia is not homogeneous. Merlot and Chardonnay are more popular in China than in Korea where Cabernet Sauvignon is more popular.

In our range, several wines match very well with many Asian foods. As a matter of fact we have participated two or three times in a seminar that Ch’ng Poh Tiong (Singapore wine writer) organised a few years back. The results were amazingly positive. A lot of Asian food matched wine, not only Montes, to be fair.

Montes opened the South Korean market for quality Chilean wines, how has the market changed since you first started working there?

the-vines-survive-among-the-cactiThe change has been dramatic. Montes wines were the very first quality Chilean wine in Korea. This was a result of Douglas Murray’s efforts in years when not a lot of people took the time to travel, offer and establish relationships in the market. I’m not afraid to say that many Korean wine lovers learned to drink with a bottle of Montes Alpha.

Today, there is a plethora of Chilean wine brands that are offering low prices, and consequently lower quality levels, that consumers are very much willing to drink. In a way it disturbs our market since some consumers move to cheaper kind of wines. This phenomena not only happens in Korea but in all markets.

What about the grey market for Montes wines?

This is the price we have to pay for having “emblematic” wines in China. Grey marketers take advantage of today’s global economy and they buy Purple Angel, Montes Folly, Montes Alpha M and, lately, Montes Taita in other markets then they ship them to China.

How they profit is still a big question. We do not know how they are able to offer our wines in China at the same, or even lower prices, than our importer considering that they have to pay a lot more freight if they buy from Europe, plus the mark ups of a longer trade channel. This situation is very disturbing to our official importers. It is not a fair way to work and we repudiate all grey market and copying activity.


This Q&A was originally destined for a magazine but sadly it never made it to print. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed it here.

You can also read about my vinous travels to Chile on Daily Mail Online, which was one of the articles submitted for consideration for the 2016 Louis Roederer International Wine Writers Awards. I was shortlisted in the Food and Wine category.

#HOTGV: On Bordeaux and the Chinese wine market with Suzanne Mustacich

For the ninth episode of Heard on the Grape Vine, I met with journalist and author Suzanne Mustacich at The Goring Hotel in London.Andre Simon 2015 drink book winner Suzanne Mustacich with Acting Chairman Nicholas Lander

Thirsty Dragon by Suzanne MustacichMustacich, who’s based in Bordeaux, writes regularly for Wine Spectator magazine on the region.

She had just won the prestigious Andre Simon Award in the drink category for her first book, Thirsty Dragon, which was presented at the hotel.

The book, published in November 2015 by Henry Holt, traces the ups and downs of China’s love for Bordeaux wines.

It covers Bordeaux’s increasing exports to China, particularly in the fine wine section, up to 2014, when the relationship between the buyers and sellers started changing. The stories of a few key characters are followed through the storyline to reveal the realities of the wine business in China.

During this epside of the podcast, we explore some of the themes covered in it, including Bordeaux export market, China’s ‘left-over women’ and the book’s heroes and villains.

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#HOTGV: On natural wine with Isabelle Legeron MW

This episode of Heard on the Grape vine is all about natural wine, an unusually complicated subject in the world of wine. To throw some clarity on the issue, I went to RAW, one of the biggest natural wine fairs in the UK, and spoke to the industry insiders.

Tree in vineyard in Georgia

Natural wine is a complicated subject. Which is ironic given that the very definition of a natural wine is a stripped back and uncomplicated product.

It’s a complicated subject because there’s no legal definition of natural wine. This means that many people have their own versions of it while others deny its existence altogether.

I am, on balance, an uncommitted supporter of natural wine. This means that I like the idea of natural wine and I appreciate the results – because there are some very good natural wines out there – but I don’t want to commit to drinking just natural wines as there are also many wine makers who aren’t following the principles of natural wine making but who are creating equally delicious wines. Basically, I want to drink delicious and interesting wines, however they’re made.

But I love the infectious passion of the natural wine makers, so decided to make this episode on natural wine. To start, a few of the winemakers exhibiting at RAW will describe what natural wine is for them. Then we’ll hear from Isabelle Legeron MW, the organiser of RAW and long-time champion of natural wine.

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Brancott Estate, capturing the premium market

Brancott Estate at The Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell

Brancott Estate is one of those brands that established a bit of a cult status while your parents were just finding their wine feet.

Ok, maybe not that long because Brancott Estate as a brand has only existed for a few years; prior to that it was Montana. But there is some truth in the cult status.

One lady I spoke to said that all of the wines at her wedding were from Brancott Estate because she loved them so much. Of course when she chose the wines, they were still Montana. Evidently the transition between the brands has been pretty smooth.

The irony is, while Brancott Estate has managed to hold to this cult status, it’s in fact a mass market brand. Apart from being incredibly readily available, it’s also produced in that global, world dominating way – in bulk.

 

So why this cult status?

Well unlike your average Blossom Hill, the company is always trying to differentiate itself with different wine experiments. Something that Jacob’s Creek has also tried to do with its Reserve label, albeit with less success.

Chosen Rows, Brancott Estate at The Modern Pantry, Clerkenwell

As well as the mass market product, which happens to be quite good, it also regularly releases smaller quantities of more premium wines. A few months ago it was the Brancott Estate Chosen Rows and last year it was a new dessert wine not yet available in the UK.

While these wines aren’t super premium, they are hitting the top end of the market for your every day wines – around £30.

Unlike the artificial inflation of the prices of Chanel bags, the pricing isn’t just a marketing strategy – it is a more premium product.

The wines are produced in much smaller quantities in comparison to its mass market products with a lot more hands on wine making involved. Hands on being the operative phrase as the grapes are harvested by hand rather than machine.

The most important point is that they’re designed to have mass market appeal. The wines are pleasant, interesting but not too challenging. The price is a little steep but not insurmountable.

 

Is it just good market(ing) sense?

Of course some of it is down to clever marketing.

The name Brancott Estate offers the wine provenance. We envisage that the wine is from an estate called Brancott with perhaps a big Chateaux-style house, even if it’s not, and automatically attribute history, and by extension, experience to it.

The realities of the quantities produced are still pretty big compared to the small artisan growers out there. With the brand’s large overreaching arm, it’s able to distribute its wines across the globe, creating an illusion of scarcity.

That is not to say that the products aren’t good. Because they are. And that’s where it really hits home.

A selection of quality wines, accessible in more ways than one and yet scarce at the same time. Is there any better way to capture a premium market?

Brancott Estate hosted a series of events over a period of months to introduce their new wines. Amateur Wine was a guest at the events. You can find out more in our Editorial Policy.

The Chinese Wine Market: an update from Château d’Anglés

 

Map of the South of France, Languedoc wines at Apero, Ampersand Hotel

Not long ago, I attended a tasting and dinner at Ampersand Hotel focusing on Languedoc AOC in the South of France. Specifically, we tasted a selection of wines from Corbières Boutenac AOC, La Clape AOC and Minervois La Livinière AOC.

I had the great fortune of sitting next to Vianney Fabre from Château d’Anglés, who was happy to discuss the Chinese wine market at great length.

Château d’Anglés has the pedigree

Château d’Anglés is a family owned vineyard in La Clape AOC. The owner and winemaker, Eric Fabre, was once winemaker at Château Lafite Rothschild. The pedigree, as you can imagine, is impeccable.

Vianney is the youngest of four siblings and worked for a while as the export manager at Bollinger. After joining the family business, he started looking after the sales side of things for Château d’Anglés, for which he spends much of his year travelling.

Menu, Languedoc wines at Apero, Ampersand Hotel

Château d’Anglés in China

China was a region that Château d’Anglés had always planned on entering. Part of the Château d’Anglés strategy was globalisation, spreading risk across multiple markets. Their foresight and knowledge about the local market is really quite impressive.

For China, the planning started some ten years ago with actualisation around six. They’re currently working with Jebsen Fine Wines on long term strategies, with a focus on the “second cities”. That is, outside the obvious targets of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong; though obviously those are still important.

I was excited to learn that the city I was born in, Chengdu, was definitely on their agenda; their wines will have to fight hard against the heavily Sichuan-peppered cuisine though.

The scene in China

Having just returned from an extensive sales trip to China, Vianney had some great insights into the Chinese wine market.

The biggest contrast between the UK and China is arguably culture, and this translates across to the wine market too.

Rather than purchasing wines from the supermarket or wine merchant as we might do here, the majority of the consumption comes from gifting. Gifting, corporate or otherwise, is indeed big business in China, especially around major festivals or holidays.

The other key market has been the army, which actually surprised me.

Wine doesn’t immediately strike me as the ideal choice for Chinese food when traditional Chinese offerings such as baijiu are an option but apparently it’s all down to ABV. Wine’s ABV peaks at around 15% while baijiu is more like 52%; less alcohol, less people getting drunk.

So what’s next?

Languedoc wines at Apero, Ampersand Hotel

As previously mentioned, Château d’Anglés is really focusing on the secondary cities and part of that is educating consumers.

Vianney suggested that the market was initially all about brands but it adapted very quickly to one which was equally interested in quality. More to the point, it was one which was particularly interested in value for money. And that’s perhaps why Château d’Anglés and other premium Languedoc wines have done particularly well in China.

In some respects, there’s also been changes in lifestyles to suit the wine. While white and sparkling wines have traditionally been rejected in favour of more palatable reds, tastes are changing. Sparkling, in particular, is seeing an increase in popularity owing to its enviable position in the luxury lifestyle market.

More than anything, it seems, China is a market that’s hungry for more. More wines, more knowledge and more diversity.

Is the Chinese wine market an illusion?

Purple grapes

When I woke up this morning, I was intent on writing about Georgian wines. Instead, I saw a tweet by Jancis Robinson and started thinking about the Chinese wine market.

The tweet was a link to a commentary by Wojciech Bońkowski on racism against Chinese wines. This was in relation to the uproar about the Chinese Cabernet, Jiabeilan 2009 from He Lan Qing Xue Winery, which recently won against some 500 other Bordeauxs in its category in the Decanter World Wine Awards.

Having read various articles on Chinese wine, I get the feeling that the buoyancy of the Chinese wine market is taken as an indicator of growing interest in wines from within China but I am dubious about the existence of this market. Without knowing much, or in fact anything aside from the trickles that comes through the broadsheets, about the current Chinese wine market it’s hard not to be sceptical.

The first Chinese wine I ever had, Great Wall, was drinkable but overtly sweet. Like all table wines, it’s intended more for lubrication of meal times than appreciation of its complex characteristics. But sweeter wines were always preferred when we gifted wine to Chinese friends and family. In fact, it was often easier to give sherry or port because it would be drunk and actually appreciated.

A few years later, the trend was to dilute wine with coke or orange juice to make it more palatable, especially when drinking in bars. But that could be as much a lack of appreciation for European style wines as the wine being bad to begin with. As Jancis Robinson pointed out in the FT, it’s something that still happens though, granted, less often. So there could be an increasing appreciation of wines on their own merits too. But I would like to know how much of that is from foreign nationals living in China, from Chinese nationals who had picked up the wine habit while living abroad and from Chinese nationals who have grown to love wine organically.

On the buying side of things, it’s my understanding that majority of international wines sold to China are through the Hong Kong markets. I am curious to know how much of that actually goes into mainland China to be consumed and how much of it is actually purchased by international buyers and then exported again at a mark-up. It also seems to be the case that the majority of wines sold are from Bordeaux. In a country where labels matter more than value, has it been a case of bidding for prestige rather than quality?

If this latest research by Wine Intelligence is to be believed though, there must exist in China some market and real appreciation for European style wines.

The question is, just how big is this market really?

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