Sun, Apr 09, 2017 - Page 15 News List

Chinese students imbibe secrets of Burgundy winemaking

Students who attend the one-year winemaking and marketing course, which costs US$14,000, hope to land lucrative jobs selling foreign wines in China’s nascent wine market

By Olivier Devos  /  AFP, DIJON, France

Steve Charters teaches a course on wine marketing at the School of Wine and Spirits Business in Dijon, France, on March 16.<>brWARNING: Excessive consumption of alcohol can damage your health

Photo: AFP

Chen Yanfen swirls a glass of Burgundy wine, noting its ruby red robe and fruity bouquet before taking her first sip.

She is part of a group of Chinese students diligently imbibing the secrets of winemaking in the rolling hills of the central French region.

Nearly one-third of the Dijon wine school’s 135 students are Chinese, willing to pay up to 13,000 euros (US$14,000) for the coveted expertise.

“For most Chinese consumers, French wine is the best, because it has a long history and it is very famous in the world,” Chen, 30, said.

Like many of her peers at the School of Wine and Spirits Business, she wants to sell French and other foreign wines in China after she finishes the one-year course.

Wine glass and pen and paper in hand, the students start earning their viticulture stripes, mastering tasting terms in English.

They also study marketing, with a special emphasis on doing business in China.

While China has grown into a prolific buyer of wine, the country has also set its sights on making its own.

Last year, China produced about 11.5 million hectoliters of wine and ranked as the sixth-largest producer in the world, according to the International Organization of Vine and Wine.

For Chinese wine enthusiasts, certification in French oenology translates into considerable cachet back home when they find work in the country’s nascent wine industry.

“In China, wine is more like a luxury product. When I tell my friends I’m majoring in wine management, they say: ‘Wow, that’s cool,’” Liu Xinyang, 22, said.

“I think it’s a well-respected profession and it’s not hard to find a job with this diploma,” she said.

As China’s middle class has grown and developed a taste for fine wine, France has seen its exports to the country surge — they rose by 12.7 percent last year.

At the same time, Chinese investors are snapping up French vineyards, with Chinese tycoons owning more than 100 properties in Bordeaux, the famous wine-producing region of southwest France.

Last year alone, billionaire Jack Ma (馬雲), founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (阿里巴巴), bought three vineyards in the region, along with their 18th-century chateaux.

“Wine from Bordeaux is a best-seller in China, especially, good-quality red wine in the lower price range,” said Yang Tingting, a lecturer at China’s Wine and Spirit Education Trust, a wine-and-spirits professional academy in Beijing.

As a high-status product, image and branding are as important as taste, said Wei Wei, who owns a wine shop in the capital.

“Wine with a better and more delicate packaging is popular, as many Chinese buy wine to give others as a gift,” she said.

Expensive reds from Bordeaux, such as Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Chateau Mouton Rothschild, remain the most coveted in China, Wei says.

Demand is driven by wealthy people’s thirst for luxury.

Both wines are among a select list of France’s premier cru, a label established by Napoleon III in 1855 to classify the country’s most prestigious wines. A single bottle can cost between 800 and 2,000 euros.

Burgundy is not far behind in the popularity contest, emerging as a strong rival to Bordeaux in the Chinese market.

Nestled in its picture-postcard hills is a narrow 60km stretch of land where no fewer than 1,000 “climats” — areas with distinct geological and weather conditions — coexist.

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