The China syndrome – exporting wine to Asia; insider advice

It’s no secret that many Australian wine producers and intermediaries are aiming to export wine into China.

Why? Firstly, it’s massive; China, with over 1.4 billion people dwarfs Australia in its population, and its growing prosperity. It has a vibrant marketplace, eager to sample the wines of the west. Its burgeoning middle-class millennials aspire to consume what used to be luxury goods but which are now affordable. The Australian free trade agreement made with China in 2014 has certainly stimulated developments.

While China also has vast wine grape plantings, so far, its wine quality results have been underwhelming, despite investment in technology and human capital in the form of flying winemakers’ eager to transfer their expertise to the locals – despite language barriers. And China has also been busy purchasing vineyards and wineries overseas- many in Bordeaux- and within Australia.

Hector Lannible, the CEO of Stoney Goose Ridge has expertly been dealing with China (and many other countries) for years; he expands on opportunities and pitfalls; here are some highlights from his keynote TED talk, made after his recent triumphs at Vinexpo 2018 in Hong Kong.

In the beginning
“I lead a wine business, but there are substantial crossover translatable elements for any business; really, it’s all very simple. Before my stellar MBA time, archaic marketing texts described the 4 P’s – product, price, promotion and place (distribution). Slightly more evolved models included positioning. But these over-simplified theories have been superseded by much more sophisticated analytic frameworks.

Today, I describe an innovative set of 4 P’s vital to success- in China, and universally. The prime factor is relationships- I call the first aspect people. You need to step up to the plate to kick goals.

All sides negotiating need to be willing to jump hurdles to lay their cards on the table. All sides need skin in the game to carry the torch; to pin down the communication fog – the essential need for mutual respect and trust. Long-term relationships require committed, ultra-trustworthy people. So, Stoney Goose Ridge successfully concluded a nimble 700-page heads of agreement in anticipation of the memorandum of understanding. And that’s just the beginning; the final contract establishes a joint venture- the China Investment Authority (CIA).

There are no artificial “Chinese walls” or “bamboo curtains” here, we make up a team of paperless tigers –  in every negotiation in this industry it’s not just about wine, and wine, it’s about win-win.

Confronting challenges
The second key is confronting problems. Not the boring logistical issues around transport, import and export regulations, customs, trademarks. Not the meaningless gibber about language nuances and cultural differences. Not even the task of supplying eye-watering volumes of wine product. Nor the potential for political interference or the so-called triads. All these are simply resolved by the universal language – not Esperanto, not Klingon. Money.

There was no spin doctor needed to confront the elephants in the room before they reached plague proportions. Two problems that exist are hacking, and wine counterfeiting. These are more widespread than our partners initially accepted, but they bowed to our resolve. Our word is our bond and we have come in from the cold and taken 39 steps to eliminate and control threats. On the regrettable angle of substitution, our high-tech centre of excellence has incorporated cutting-edge bespoke design enhancements into packaging, and indeed into the wines themselves. Due to patent and bilateral security issues, I am unable to reveal details, but our network of agents will take decisive action to terminate breaches with a thousand cuts..

And so it goes; at the coalface, we think outside the Pandora’s box of the four winds.

Following through
The third factor is processes.

Stoney Goose Ridge leads the vanguard of support arrangements; our long-term dealings with wholesalers, distributors, retailers; our training in sales, accounting, finance, legal, IT, packaging, data-mining and brand superiority. We are infamous for our advertising, promotion and array of point-of-sale and back-office efficiencies. Plus our blockchain and cryptocurrency adventures.  Certainly, we are supremely confident that our Chinese partners are onboard and entirely speak our language. Yin and yang in feng shui harmony.

It’s a lay-down misere that the dominoes will fall, and a penalty shoot-out is not required to snooker our competitors.

We have embedded multiple cross-cultural synergies. But we won’t stop there – we have over fifty existing product lines covering varietal wines and blends at all price points, positioned to satisfy numerous lifestyle segments. Our data mining minions excel at their spreadsheet craft; the only challenge is to translate these winning brands into the uniquely inscrutable Chinese language. But I know that barcodes are universal, and our graphic design talents are truly phenomenal.

Making waves
The final aspect is personality. Although I was born a type-A workaholic rat, I was close to being a snake. Stoney Goose Ridge, under my virtuoso entrepreneurial inspirational guidance, has in the past year unleashed many market-leading new wines – Brosé, Emoh Ruo, Chamsecco®, Hipsters’ Reward, Lawyer’s Picnic, plus beers such as One Tasty Blonde, Bullant Lager, and spirits such as The Old Wood Duck (vodka) and Two Fingers (gin).  These are deservedly barnstorming chart-toppers at the box office. We bring this extraordinary creative branding acumen and flair to the CIA; and our first great leap forward into the Chinese market is known internally as project “China White”.

I remember Prince Philips’ notorious comment “if it has got four legs and it is not a chair, if it has got two wings and flies but is not an aeroplane and if it swims and it is not a submarine, they will eat it”. It reminds me of Upton Sinclair’s words about the Chicago slaughteryards “they use everything about the hog except the squeal”. I strongly disapprove of this malicious stereotyping.

Certainly, with wine, Chinese tastes, lifestyle demographics and descriptions are quite different to Western mores. The familiar Davis flavour wheel needs transubstantiation to include Chinese fruits, flowers, flavours and textures.  Our wine writers, critics and wine makers literally need galvanisation. Plus, the cuisines of China are diverse and demanding. Wine and food matching combinations require synergistic revolutionary insights. Fortunately, Stoney Goose Ridge has long employed consumer panels, and focus groups; we’re not entirely captive to our beancounters when we need to make a buck. And under my frenetic acumen, our team of wine fabricators will fully meet the needs of the market, using all the agile techniques and materials at their disposal.

We’re not fighting Voldemort; we know where to obtain sufficient silver bullets to defeat the walking dead before the full moon appears. With ice in our veins, our competitors will truly feel the heat. When you chase the dragon, you don’t want your dreams to go up in smoke. So we ensure our wines have the x factor, plus the Y and z factors.

We acknowledge the presence of many other wine brands already present in China- such as Penfolds (transliterated as Ben Fu), and the extraordinary cachet of Chateau Lafite. But we’ll leapfrog these tall poppies within years. Our competitors can try to conduct a kamikaze blitzkrieg, but Stony Goose Ridge will establish a dynasty, leaping forward with our initial 5-year plan.

And the wine industry is not interested in a dry argument. We provide the products, either as bulk or fully packaged wines; our Chinese partners deal with downstream aspects where their interlocking familial obligations ensure widespread uptake. Our partners will utilise whatever social media may exist for the Chinese markets, whether its Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or others I cannot even pronounce.

Living the dream
Just these four keys- people, problems, processes, and personality will unlock the passport to the frontier. Like Tencent, and the successful B-to-B enterprise Alibaba, I say “open Sesame”!

I often say to my flock of subordinate acolytes “when you grasp the nettle, it’s full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes”.

Finally, I can say that while Stoney Goose Ridge will be an overwhelming success in this burgeoning market, we don’t keep all our eggs in one basket to bring home the bacon.

So,  I issue a challenge to other wine companies. Stoney Goose Ridge will prevail in China, but that country’s appetite is so large there is still scope for others to operate on the fringes and niche markets that Stoney Goose Ridge has assessed as unviable. Go for it, and try to prove us wrong. There is a first time for everything!  I remain in awe of the volume, frequency, intensity and power of the bodily emanations of some of my jealous aspiring peers.

In conclusion, I reiterate some traditional Chinese wisdoms: live long and prosper, may the force be with you grasshopper, may you live in interesting times, and may you come to the attention of your superiors. Thank you.”

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Mornington Peninsula musings

Thanks to the generosity of Sommeliers Australia and the Mornington Peninsula Vignerons Association (MPVA- and its very detailed website), I attended a day trip to improve my understanding of the wines, vintages, geography and winemakers of the region. Kudos to the winemakers for making time and wines available, and their preparedness to field questions from our group.

morn day trip 1

morn day trip 2

The group tasted (at speed) a range of current, near-future, and museum stock wines. The natural acidity usually provided plenty of energy and ageing potential. As expected, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir provided most wines tasted.

My takeaways were

  • A cool, maritime climate with large water bodies (Bass Strait, Westernport bay, Port Phillip Bay) nearby, plantings from near sea-level to 300 meters, and varying soli types, there is ample scope for grape-growing variations, even before winemaking philosophies and techniques come into play.
  • Vines (now) have enough age to provide richness and flavour depth
  • There are thoughtful winemakers employing a range of techniques and trying to maximise the distinctiveness of their sites
  • With Chardonnays, divergence between full malo and no malo approaches, but both were successfully employed
  • Many comments about wild yeast, clones and there is a lot of experimentation
  • 2015 was generally regarded as an excellent year, some support for 2016 too, 2017 very good, 2018 a large crop but excellent quality (at this early stage)

Its probably cruel to single out highlights, but standouts for me

  • 2012 Yabby Lake single vineyard block 1 Chardonnay; bright, tangerine, lemon curd, stonefruit, with many years ahead
  • 2017 Stonier Chardonnay; a wine made in amazing quantities, but layers of chalk, honey, creaminess and energy, a tribute to  winemaking techniques and blending of batches at a bargain price
  • 2017 Quealy (musk vineyard) Pinot Gris; Pear, texture, lemon drop, plenty going on
  • 2010 Kooyong Farrago vineyard Chardonnay; in its prime, a lovely, juicy, supple, grapefruit style, a delight that was hard to spit out
  • 2016 Port Phillip estate Morillon Pinot Noir; rhubarb and energy in abundance
  • 2016 Kooyong Ferrous vineyard Pinot Noir; earth and plum, supple and seductive
  • 2016 Moorooduc Robinson Pinot Noir; (project wine) fleshy, foresty, plummy, dark fruits
  • 2016 Paringa Pinot Noir (project wine); sweet fruit, fresh and utterly delicious
  • 2010 Eldridge Estate Pinot Noir; soft but opulent
  • 2015 Paringa estate “the paringa”; amazing mouthfeel, with a balance of chew and finesse
  • 2015 Ocean 8 “aylward” Pinot Noir; fragrance and power, some purple fruits in the mix. Low cropped but unforced
  • 2016 Moorooduc Robinson vineyard Pinot Noir; raspberry, dark cherry and sensual
  • 2016 10 minutes by Tractor McCutcheon vineyard Pinot Noir; sweet fruits, fleshy, smashable but with serious intent.

Apologies for the lack of photos and their quality, I had some technology challenges!

The wines, scenery and proximity to Melbourne make the Mornington Peninsula a “really-should do”.

 

Random recent drinking

2010 Ch La Tour blanche 14% (sauternes)
80% Semillon, 15% Sav Blanc, 5% Muscadelle, 130 g/l rs
A chateau that overdelivers on bang-for buck, there is stonefruit, barley-sugar, just-ripe apricot and cumquat. Oak plays in the background and this is delicious.
93 points, and irresistible to 2025, or longer.

2007 Joh Jos Prum Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Auslese AP29,  7.5%
Ripe red apple, petroleum, minerals.Crunchy, some fruit rind notes too on the palate, bracing, lovely tingly, pebbly drive.
The 2007 Mosel Rieslings have emerged from their shell and are providing rewarding hedonistic drinking
92 points, and drink to 2030 or beyond

2004 Ch Climens 13.5%, (Barsac)
Glue smells accompany apricot cream and almond. Very sweet, but with a some bitterness too. It had the misfortune to be contrasted with the next wine, and while this half-bottle was eminently drinkable,
86 points. Perhaps an underperforming bottle.

2005 Ch Doisy-daene 14% (Barsac)
Another VFM producer, and the wine shows nutmeg and cinnamon spices, pineapple and vanilla. Classic palate length, with sweetness and acidity just right.
93 points, and drink to 2028.

2003 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port 19.5%

The widely declared 2016 Portuguese Vintage ports have seen numerous positive reviews, many mentioning their fruit richness and surprising early approachability (albeit with maturation to come over the next few decades).  I took the opportunity to visit a heatwave 2003 wine,  another generally declared vintage year.

Quinta do Noval is well-known for its Nacional vintage port – which I have never tasted- and their earlier-drinking Silval, but the wine reviewed is their standard model. These wines are imported into Australia by Bibendum, and are widely available. Noval  follow the beat of their own drum, with recent vintage ports released from 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016; whereas most other houses only declared 2011, 2015 and 2016.

2003 qdn

The cork has done its duty, the colour of the wine is a very solid dense red, with some bricking on the rim. The bouquet is ultra-complex; mulberry, liqueur cherry, plumcake spices, green olive, almond, blueberry and cocoa. The palate is an elegant full-bodied style; flavours coat the mouth, there is the tension between blue, red and black fruits. Blackcurrant is in the mix now with red liquorice. The fortifying spirit has melded, the super-silky tannins are present within the swathe of rich ripe fruit.

At this age, the wine is generous, juicy, approachable and delicious, but has the stuffing to mature with grace for another 20 years.

An easy 94 points, and drink up to 2035.

2007 Knebel Winninger Rottgen Auslese Riesling 7%

From a half bottle, the cork shows some wine travel- no qualms; the label is cellar-scuffed, but the contents are much more important.

knebel 2007

 

The colour is bright gold, with abundant, tantalising stewed apricot, cinnamon spice,  pineapple and dark honey. This is class! Reinhard and Beate Knebel  (Mosel, Germany)  have no trouble delivering wines with an abundance of richness, but with the harmonious balancing acid to provide delight.

The palate is palatial and unctuous (with 190 g/l of residual sugar, somewhat atypically abundant for an Auslese, but I am not complaining). Apricot, quince, honey, wrapped with cinnamon and faint vanilla pod spices. Fresh and  smooth, from a fairly typical recent Mosel vintage, this is a startling reminder of the lush featherlight excellence of a sweet Riesling,  full of flavour with modest alcohol.

Match with a fruit platter or by just by itself for delightful contemplation.

Drink to 2030, 95 points and I am jealous of anyone that has some bottles remaining.

Penfolds Grandfather (Rare Tawny Port) 20%

This a wine that is meant to be a gift – there is an elaborate, impressive box, a striking, weighty bottle and a hefty price in Australia – around $80-$90. And its not a gift to decline, even though I purchased it from curiosity. It’s sealed with a very ordinary cork, but there is a glass stopper included in the package.

penfolds grandfather 1penfolds grandfather 2

The wine claims a minimum average age of 20 years, and its home is the Barossa Valley of South Australia (although doubtless blended from many parcels from different areas and grape varieties). One of the curious crafts of this style is to ensure the blend is not merely old, but also maintains vitality and freshness. The description “rare” reflects not merely the age, but the quality level. It’s an expensive exercise to hold wine for so long in barrel, with winemakers having to be somewhat circumspect to their book-keeping regime. Old fortified wines are a luxury, low-volume line that -whether in small companies (or even large concerns like Penfolds)- include a nod to winemaker whimsy and tradition.

The colour of the wine is a bright amber/khaki, and there are graceful spice notes, honey, vanilla, caramel and crackling autumn log-fire notes. The fortifying spirit has been sensitively selected and has melded extremely well. The palate is effortlessly balanced with some dried fruit raisins, caramel and vanilla again, plus figs and clean citrus-led acidity to tidy matters along. The persistence of flavours is extensive, and of course the combination ensures resistance to further tasting indulgence is futile.

Overall, this a a super Australian example of this style.

Once opened, this wine is ready to drink – over several weeks, and deserves 95 points.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2007 Emrich-Schonleber Monziger Fruhlingplatzchen Riesling Auslese #17 9%

Another enjoyable wine from the upper Nahe in Germany.  From Stephen Reinhardt‘s terrific reference book  “The finest wines of Germany”  comes the tribute that the family has “maintained parcels in the steepest sites…and restored a number of top parcels that had been abandoned for decades…since they were suitable neither for mechanisation nor for high yields”, ending with Werner Schonleber’s claim that “quality comes from torture”.

Fruhlingplazchen translates as “Spring’s little place” and is mainly blue slate.

2007 emrich

This wine is a deep gold colour, exhibiting ripe apricot, yellow peach skin, and quince aromas. The palate is unctuous and honeyed, with a touch of tropical pineapple, plus cinnamon spiciness. There is a strong line of mineral and a delicious persistence.  Notes from the importer reveal the wine has 113 g/l of residual sugar, in balance with its acidity. Altogether lovely.

From the half-bottle, drink to 2023 and 94 points.