One-day Won­der

Ital­ian wines get a leg-up in the Main­land Chi­nese mar­ket with the help of alibaba, writes James Suck­ling

Hong Kong Tatler - - | Life Wine -

n event took place across Main­land China last month whose im­pact on the global wine mar­ket I sus­pect will con­tinue for quite a few years. Or­gan­ised by the e-com­merce plat­form Alibaba, the inau­gu­ral Wine Day was de­signed to ex­cite Chi­nese consumers about Ital­ian wines and wine cul­ture. It took place on Septem­ber 9—af­ter the dead­line for writ­ing this col­umn, so I can­not con­firm the pro­jected par­tic­i­pa­tion of 100 mil­lion peo­ple.

Wine Day was an­nounced in April at the mas­sive trade show Vini­taly in Verona by Alibaba founder Jack Ma. He said he hoped it would re­peat the on­line sales suc­cess of the com­pany’s Singles Day, an un­of­fi­cial main­land hol­i­day tar­get­ing un­mar­ried Chi­nese consumers held on Novem­ber 11 last year. Singles Day brought in more than US$14 mil­lion in on­line sales in just one day, and I ex­pect the value of wine sales on Septem­ber 9 will have been sig­nif­i­cantly higher. My com­pany pro­vided con­tent, in­clud­ing videos and in­ter­views, to help Alibaba’s pre­mium re­tail plat­form, Tmall, pro­mote Ital­ian wines for the event.

The Wine Day con­cept makes sense as an ef­fi­cient way to com­mu­ni­cate the in­ter­est and en­joy­ment of wine to consumers. Un­til now, it’s been dif­fi­cult to cre­ate a sin­gle mes­sage for Chi­nese consumers about wine due to the vast size of the coun­try and seg­mented com­mu­ni­ca­tion on the sub­ject. In fact, the com­mu­ni­ca­tion of wine as a com­plex and civilised bev­er­age has been rel­a­tively poor in China; most dis­cus­sion has been about wine ed­u­ca­tion rather than wine ap­pre­ci­a­tion, which doesn’t ex­pand the mar­ket. Worse, a lot of the com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the past was about wine as an in­vest­ment and had noth­ing to do with build­ing a foun­da­tion of loyal wine lovers. This, of course, has changed with the re­cent evo­lu­tion of gov­ern­men­tal poli­cies. Wine in­vest­ment, as in­vest­ment in gen­eral in lux­ury goods, is frowned upon.

None of the above will have been the case on Septem­ber 9, as the fo­cus of Wine Day was on drink­ing and en­joy­ing wine. In the end, drink­ing wine is the best way to learn about it; it’s the ex­pe­ri­ence of shar­ing a good bot­tle with friends and fam­ily, and appreciating the mo­ment and un­der­stand­ing the good­ness of wine. Alibaba ex­pects to triple its on­line wine sales with the help of Wine Day this year. Tmall sold more than 230 mil­lion bot­tles last year, with 80 per cent of the sales be­ing im­ported wines, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany.

Chi­nese consumers know very lit­tle about Ital­ian wines. I am cer­tain that many Chi­nese only be­lieve France makes se­ri­ous wine. China’s an­nual im­ports of Ital­ian wines run to about US$2 billion, ac­cord­ing to Reuters, cit­ing fig­ures re­leased by think tank Nomisma, well be­hind the fig­ures for French, Aus­tralian, Span­ish and Chilean wines. “Right now, 6 per cent of the wines we sell in China are Ital­ian,” Ma said dur­ing Vini­taly. “We want to change that 6 per cent into 60 per cent, and help you sell as much Ital­ian wine in China as pos­si­ble.”

I be­lieve Ma’s goal of Ital­ian wine ac­count­ing for al­most two out of three bot­tles of wine sold in China is a lit­tle op­ti­mistic, to say the least. But any­thing as pow­er­ful as Alibaba push­ing to in­crease wine sales in China, whether from Italy or else­where, has to be a good thing in the long run. China will one day take its right­ful place as the world’s great­est wine mar­ket.

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