Cal­i­for­nia to lead wine ed­u­ca­tion in emerg­ing economies

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS DIGEST - By YU WEI in San Fran­cisco yuwei12@chi­nadai­

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

Fam­ily Wine mak­ers of Cal­i­for­nia, a trade as­so­ci­a­tion of more than 500 fam­ily-owned winer­ies, and Stone­bridge Re­search Group, a ma­jor re­search firm for the wine in­dus­try, have been awarded a $369,292 grant from the US Depart­ment of 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’s what we’re try­ing to change.”

She added that Stone­bridge wants 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, which was launched by the USDA’s For­eign Agri­cul­tural Ser­vice and “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.

To­tal US wine ex­ports 90 per­cent of which come from Cal­i­for­nia reached a record $1.43 bil­lion last year, up 2.6 per­cent year-on-year.

On the Chi­nese main­land last year, sales of US wine to­taled $74 mil­lion, up 18 per­cent from the pre­vi­ous year, ac­cord­ing to the San Fran­cisco-based Wine In­sti­tute. The Chi­nese main­land is 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 the coun­try. 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,” Insel ex­plained, adding that she and her team have asked the Culi­nary In­sti­tute of Amer­ica to adapt its three-day in­ten­sive course on Cal­i­for­nia wines into a multi-level cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­gram tai­lored 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 price­sen­si­tive, but Insel be­lieves that 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.

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.

“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,” she said.

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