Drinking affordable wines with pride

Happy wine lovers at 2015 Decanter Shanghai Fine Wine Encounter

If you ask me, the Chinese wine market nowadays is a rather weird place.

The professional wine merchants claim that they’re selling more and more expensive wines in China, and they’d feel embarrassed if any part of their portfolio isn’t from an AOC or hasn’t won a gold medal. They must be right—all my friends on my WeChat timeline are showing off Lafite, DRC or at least a Cru Bourgeois.

However, if you check the online wine shops, or take a quick walk around a supermarket, you will find that the average price of wines they sell is lingering at merely 40RMB (4 pounds). Now I’m confused—why is there such a big gap?

Then it suddenly occurred to me that we ‘professionals’ might have been kidding ourselves for quite a long time. Our pride made us intentionally ignore what the mass majority of Chinese consumers really want: wines under 50RMB.

We sell these affordable wines with contempt, even when we have to. We assume that these wines are meant for those who don’t know a thing about fine wine, and only need a cheap drink. 'How on earth can they tell the good from the bad?’

And thus the threshold to the world of wine is quietly raised, without us noticing it. Drinking affordable wine has now become something you should be ashamed of, something not worth mentioning, and should never appear on your WeChat timeline.

The truth is, the wine market is a bit like a pyramid—it cannot exist in mid-air without a firm foundation. And the foundation of this market is indeed laid by those who drink wines under 50RMB.

The new generation of entry-level consumers may have taken their first sip of wine for various reasons. But if they like what they had, they may buy again. The more they drink, the more interested they may become. And in no time they will be drinking wines from Burgundy, Napa Valley and Barossa.

50RMB is what Chinese consumers can easily afford for a failed attempt. We’d be happy to try a new restaurant if it only costs us 50RMB per person. Even if we don’t like it for the first time, we may still come back to give it a second chance. But for a restaurant that costs 200RMB per person, many of us won’t even care for a try. And if we don’t like it once, nothing can bring us back there again.

Therefore, we need to make sure that the cost of a failed attempt in wine is low enough. For the Chinese wine trade, what we can do is to reduce the risk of failure by making wines under 50RMB taste better.

If you are an importer, try to bring in more affordable wines with a pleasant taste. It’s not difficult at all—as long as you really taste it yourself, or invite sommeliers and your clients to taste it before buying.

If you are a professional taster or a wine journalist, look out for and promote some affordable wines with a decent taste, so as to encourage wine beginners to try and then share their experience.

If you have a loyal following among consumers already, use your professional knowledge to proudly back up those affordable and good-quality wines, and reach out to those who have just started in wine.

I recently recommended seven good-quality wines available for under 50RMB on my WeChat public account. One of the wines that I enjoyed the most sold out immediately, which was evident of consumers’ need for wines of this price.

Some people asked me, however, if we start promoting wines below 50RMB, will people stop wanting expensive wines?

I find such fear ill-founded; when wines of 50RMB make a big success in China, why wouldn’t consumers want to try wines of 100RMB? Once drinking wine becomes a hobby, consumers will naturally want to progress to a higher level of the price pyramid. The more they drink, the better wines they will be looking for. And don’t forget that wine has this irresistible charm—once you’re into it, you can hardly get out.

Just ask any wine enthusiast around you—isn’t this how they got totally hooked by the world of wine?

Translated by Sylvia Wu / 吴嘉溦

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