Changyu, China’s biggest wine producing company, is set to nurture a new generation of wine consumers through wine tourism and characterful branded wines, said chief winemaker Dr LI Jiming in an interview with DecanterChina.com.
‘Turning tourists into wine consumers’
Compared to well-developed wine destinations such as the Napa Valley, China’s wine tourism industry is at a preliminary stage. Nonetheless, the coastal city Yantai, Changyu’s birthplace, is ahead of other key Chinese wine regions in developing a modern wine tourism industry.
‘The wineries open for visitors offer a selection of attractions including grape picking, a winemaking experience, accommodation and catering services,’ YI Fenghuang, Director of Yantai Grape and Wine Bureau, told DecanterChina.com. Local wine attractions, including Changyu Wine Culture Museum, Chateau Changyu-Castel and Chateau Jundin of COFCO, are now ‘renowned places of interest’ in the city.
But Rome wasn’t built in a day, Dr LI stressed. Changyu’s first attempt at wine tourism was in 1992, when the Changyu Wine Culture Museum was built to exhibit the company’s history as China’s pioneer of industrialised winemaking. In 2001, Chateau Changyu-Castel, the company’s first chateau with ‘some tourist functions’ was open to the public, allowing visitors access to its vineyards and wineries.
Chateau Changyu AFIP Global (Beijing), launched in 2006, went further by implementing catering and accommodation services. The project was followed by a further three estates in western China: Chateau Changyu Rena in Shaanxi, Chateau Changyu Moser XV in Ningxia and Chateau Changyu Baron Balboa in Xinjiang. These estates were designed with ‘further considerations on wine tourism’, said Dr. LI.
The latest, 400-hectare ‘Changyu International Wine City’, is expected to open to the public next year, and will likely provide a more diverse range of wine attractions, said the chief winemaker. It’s expected that its modernised wineries will be shown to tourists as a demonstration of the group’s ‘industrialised’ winemaking.
By showing tourists the winemaking process and teaching them the benefits and enjoyment in wine drinking, Dr Ll Jiming wants to reach his ‘ultimate goal’ of ‘turning these tourists into wine consumers’.
Adapting to the ‘new norm’
The government austerity measures launched at the end of 2012 has left a lingering impact on the high end Chinese wine market, whilst the middle-to-lower end market and younger wine drinking population have revealed their true potential.
Facing the ‘new market norm’, Changyu chose to put more efforts into enriching its middle-to-lower product range. ‘Our lower-priced product range used to lack diversity and a brand identity,’ said Dr LI. To tackle that, the group launched the ‘Zui Shi Xian (The Drunken Poet)’ range last year with an average price of 60 RMB (£6).
Compared to the more ‘condensed and complex’ chateau-produced wines, these wines are ‘easier to drink and understand’, therefore are more likely to be accepted by the general Chinese consumers, said Dr LI. By promoting these wines, the group is hoping to ‘nurture a new generation of wine consumers’.
However, he stressed, Changyu will still ‘make every possible effort’ to improve its high-end estate wines.
‘Even in the era of new market orders, demands for high-end products still exist,’ said Dr LI. ‘If anything, the “new norm” gave us more opportunities and time to improve the quality of our chateau products.’
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