Wine magazine Decanter ranked the 50 most influential people in the industry and for the fist time five people on the list reside are in China. Chinese consumption patterns are also changing the wine world, even in traditional countries such as France, said Guy Woodward, editor of Decanter.
“In China and Asia, the rate of change is so fast and the potential so large that that influence is brought to bear across the global market as a whole,” Mr. Woodward said.
The highest-ranked wine influencer in China is seventh-ranked Don St. Pierre Jr., the Canadian chief executive of ASC wines. Followed by, is Wu Fei, chairman of COFCO Wines & Spirits, the Chinese state-owned company that owns Great Wall and has been on a snapping up vineyards in Chile and France.
China’s thirst for wine is re-shaping the ranks of movers and shakers in Europe as well. Take Eric de Rothschild, who is listed as the second-most powerful person in the wine world, after Pierre Pringuet, the chief executive of drinks conglomerate Pernod Ricard. Mr. de Rothschild, who was ranked 20th the last time the power list was compiled, two years ago, is president of Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite), which owns Château Lafite, a top Bordeaux that has become wildly popular among China’s wealthy. Prices of bottles of Château Lafite have soared as Chinese demand has jumped—at an October Sotheby’s sale in Hong Kong, three bottles of Château Lafite-Rothschild 1869 sold for 1.8 million Hong Kong dollars (US$232,693) each.
“[Mr. de Rothschild] is now seen as the owner of the most sought-after wine in the world because of what’s going on in Asia,” said Mr. Woodward.
Million-dollar-bottle-Bordeaux aside, look at Cofco boss Mr. Fei, head of the country’s largest domestic wine producer, who is turning the company from cheap wine (read bulk wine blends) producer to a global mid to premium range producer.
“Not everyone is drinking Lafite,” said Mr. Woodward. ”There’s a question on how the wine market will develop with the man on the street. What sorts of wine will they want to drink? Cofco will have a huge influence on that and has the power to shape the domestic market quite a lot in terms of quality of Chinese-made wine.”
The other China players on the list are Robert Shum, founder of the retail chain Aussino World Wines, and the wine columnist Ch’ng Poh Tion.
“I think what will be interesting to watch is how tastes are defined in China,” said Mr. Woodward. “For example, in the past, in the U.K. and the U.S., it was Robert Parker who was huge in shaping consumer tastes. It’ll be interesting [to see] how Chinese consumers choose their wines. Will they be influenced by the critics or will they just have the confidence of going with their own palate?”
At CWA we believe the Chinese consumer will make up their own mind based on well judged guidance from China’s leading professional wine buyers – the CWA judges.