From Bordeaux to Beijing


Bordeaux native Helene Ponty has taken the direct approach when selling her family wines to China -- a decision that has proved to be an astute business move.

photo courtesy of Mark Graham

Ponty move to Beijing more than a year ago, figuring that being based in the capital would be the best place to organise a proper distribution channel for the family wines. Now, the China market accounts for almost a third of the 70,000 bottles the family vineyard produces annually.

Ponty Vineyards was started more than a century ago by the 26-year-old’s great-grandfather in Canon Fronsac, one of the smaller regions of Bordeaux, which has fewer than 50 producers. The current patriarch, Michel Ponty, is president of the local association of wine growers.

Daughter Helene was not originally planning a career with the family business: she completed an MBA in the United States and began working as a management consultant in New York. But when boyfriend Erik Chen, who she had met at college, suggested a move to China, she was intrigued at the opportunities in the world’s fastest-growing economy, in particular for Ponty wines.

Within a short time of moving to the Beijing, she set up Le Ponty Wines and began to find her way around the labyrinthian bureaucracy and import regulations, helped enormously by boyfriend Chen’s family contacts.

photo courtesy of Mark Graham

The five wines in the Le Ponty portfolio, most of them merlot are sold to wholesalers at a price of RMB100 to RMB 300 ultimately finding their way into private clubs and as corporate gifts. In the space of a year, Ponty has imported 24,000 bottles, with another 12,000-bottle shipment scheduled for the summer.

All the major cities are now covered by Le Ponty, with plans to expand into second and third-tier cities in future. The personable young Frenchwoman sees education as a major part of her role – and people in China are only too willing to listen to someone who grew up in the world’s most famous wine-growing region.

She adds: “I have found that most people don’t want to hear about the grape and the soil and the technical details, they want to hear the story of the winery and how long we have been around and what is our philosophy. I try to make thing simple and tell people about the history.”

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