Chinese movie star Zhao Wei’s Bordeaux wine passion

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Until recently, the only way to buy Chateau Monlot wines was to import them personally – or be a good pal of actress Zhao Wei (Vicky).

Now anyone with RMB200 to spare, and access to Tmall.com, can sample an entry-level wine that carries the Monlot name. As well as producing fine wines carrying the Chateau Monlot marque, Zhao has released a range of more affordable wines under the Monlot label; so far 100,000 bottles have been shifted on Tmall.com.

Zhao Wei's private tasting with winemaker Jean de CournuaudImage: Zhao Wei and Chateau Monlot winemaker Jean de Cournuaud at private wine tasting in Beijing © Mark Graham

Although Zhao bought the St Emilion chateau five years ago – and subsequently two others, Chateau La Vue and Chateau Senailhac in Bordeaux – she had, until now, held back from selling the wines in her native country.

Part of the reason was that Zhao was keenly focused on improving quality, rather than going for quantity and mass-market sales. To that end, she hired an expert from Chateau Petrus to run the rule over grape-growing methods at the property, collaborating with Chateau Monlot’s chief wine-maker Jean de Cournaud.

‘She is doing it the right way, and is concerned about the quality, starting from the basics to make sure that the quality is good,’ says de Cournaud, who was flown in for the official Tmall launch of the wines, in Hangzhou, and accompanied Zhao to an exclusive private tasting in Beijing.

Zhao wei at Tmall launchImage: Zhao wei at Tmall launch

De Cournaud, who comes from a family that have made wine for nine generations since 1769, was clearly amazed at the fast pace of China, the keen interest in wine and the celebrity power of his superstar employer.

He was on hand to explain in detail, to wine writers and specially-invited guests, the characteristics of each vintage. The wines were paired with dishes on a specially-designed menu created by the chef of the Italian restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel.

Among those sampled were the Heritage de Monlot, which has 82 per cent Merlot and 18 per cent Cabernet Franc, and Chateau Monlot Cuvee Prestige, a blend of 75 per cent Merlot and 25 per cent Cabernet Franc. Both are made from grapes harvested from vines that are more than 40 years old.

Higher-end vintages such as these will retail for around RMB2,000 in China, with discounts during the launch period, while the more mass-market offerings, sold under the Monlot brand, have a starting price of under RMB200.

Tmall.com was inundated with subscribers keen to learn more about Zhao’s wines, reflecting her star power and also her close association with wine. Other celebrities who have used their pulling power to peddle wines have included actress Carina Lau and retired basketball player Yao Ming.

‘I have really loved wine for ten years ever since I went to France and visited a chateau and fell in love with the idea,’ says Zhao. ‘I thought if I buy a vineyard I can eventually go and retire there and my daughter can inherit it. I learned a lot about the process of making wine. I love it very much. In the past I only gave wine to friends as a gift, something that was really personal, as it came from my own vineyard.’

Zhao Wei at Tmall launchImage: Zhao Wei at Tmall launch

‘I love comparing different vintages, the feelings and taste, the real taste of the land,’ said the actress. ‘When you make wine you are unravelling a mystery that is different every time, it is so different from beer or Chinese liquor. I think wine is also one of the healthier drinks and is relaxing.”

Zhao said introducing the wine to China was not originally a priority, but the positive reaction to a television documentary she did, explaining her passion for wine, made her realise that the commercial potential was there.

‘I don’t usually show my personal life to the public but wine is a real passion of mine. After the show aired there was a really good reaction and more and more people started to ask how they could by the wine, not just people in the film industry.’

Zhao Wei and Chateau Monlot winemaker Jean de Cournuaud at private wine tasting in BeijingImage: Zhao Wei and Chateau Monlot winemaker Jean de Cournuaud at private wine tasting in Beijing © Mark Graham

The newly-launched wine business is just one of many in Zhao’s wide portfolio. She is known as a canny investor, and was described by Forbes magazine as the wealthiest working actress.

Her business savvy has been applied to the French wine industry – as well as owning vineyards, Zhao has set up a management company that has 12 chateaux in its portfolio.

Now the Tmall.com launch has been completed, Zhao plans to focus once more on the film industry. Work will start shortly on her second feature as director; the first was a huge box-office hit, grossing more than RMB700 million, underscoring Zhao’s reputation as a director, actress and businesswomen, who is blessed with the Midas touch.

Translated by Sylvia Wu / 吴嘉溦

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