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Q&A with Thomas Jullien, CIVB Market Advisor for Hong Kong & China

05/07/2017
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Bordeaux wines have famously enjoyed a prolific reputation in the rapidly growing Chinese wine market. Here we ask the CIVB (Bordeaux Wine Council) representative in the region whether such success has brought with it any challenges, and what it might all mean for the future.

Your career began in Latin America; how did you end up in Asia and what similarities have you noticed between the two markets, if any?

I wanted to see the world! From a business perspective, both regions offer tremendous growth potential but they are also diverse and comprise markets at very different stages of maturity.

In Asia, the wine markets in Japan and Hong Kong are more mature than their Chinese or Korean counterparts. But each market has its own development pace and idiosyncrasies – I am always wary of shortcuts like: ‘country Y is like country X was 20 years ago’.

What impact has increasing Chinese investment – in both wine and property – had on the production of Bordeaux wines?

China has come to play a key role for us in Bordeaux. Our biggest export market by far, it has also resonated with investors who are snapping up estates in the region. This mutual embrace is strengthening a long term relationship that bodes well when you consider the future development of the wine market in China: estimates show the number of consumers drinking imported wine could quadruple in less than 10 years. It puts us in a great position to keep growing within China, the soon-to-become leading wine consumption market in the world.

Long history and tradition are a plus – provided it translates into quality!

 

What effect has increased levels of wine education within the Asia-Pacific region had on consumers’ appreciation of Bordeaux?

Wine is a cultural product whose appreciation is enhanced by knowledge. The thirst to learn about wine in the region is spectacular. Knowledge breeds curiosity and an openness to try new things.

 Those working in the trade are striving to learn and pass the knowledge onto their customers. This helps consumers discover Bordeaux’s lesser –known appellations at different price points.

The early stage of development in the Chinese market was driven by entry level Bordeaux and classified growths with very little in between, which was an issue as most of the wines produced in Bordeaux sit within the upper mid-range segment.

With increased understanding of our wines, consumers who were only interested in low prices have traded up to mid-range and have started to drink wines from the Cotes de Bordeaux, Moulis, Listrac and St Emilion – areas that were not even imported to China a few years back. Knowledge breeds curiosity and openness to try something new.

How have marketing campaigns evolved in recent years in order to stay relevant and engaging for an increasingly digitally-savvy Chinese wine consumer?

We set-up social media accounts – WeChat, Weibo, Youku, Tudou – from the get-go to nurture the relationship with consumers and provide them with opportunities to enjoy Bordeaux wines in China. We have also been investing in digital advertising to recruit new consumers who are just starting their wine journey.

Digital is at the heart of our marketing plans. The industry is super creative – and competitive – and provides increasingly efficient ways of targeting potential customers and nurturing them to become loyal brand aficionados. We constantly update formats and platforms to leverage new opportunities offered by digital partners.


Thomas delivering a presentation about the wines of Bordeaux in China

Does Bordeaux’s globally long-established reputation pose any challenges?

In China, it works to Bordeaux’s benefit as consumers expect quality credentials and reassurance from the imported wines they purchase. Long history and tradition are a plus – provided it translates into quality!

How much of a threat does counterfeiting pose to Bordeaux’s export market, and what brand protection measures have the CIVB taken to prevent it?

Counterfeiting is an issue affecting most industries in China. CIVB is working closely with the China authorities to build an effective protection system for Bordeaux’s geographical indications.

All Bordeaux appellations have been registered in China and are placed under the protection of Chinese laws. This also means obtaining all available legal protections within the China system and assisting the authorities in enforcing said protection.

To this effect we have established close relationships with the relevant authorities and provide training and share expertise to help address the issue.

The luxury travel market in the Asia Pacific region has grown to be incredibly lucrative. During your time in Hong Kong, what trends have you noticed relating to oeno-tourism?

Chinese tourists’ general expectations have been shifting from monument gazing and shopping marathons to seeking immersive experiences in unique environments. Getting to taste Bordeaux wines where they are made allows for total immersion in their culture and history, and being able to engage directly with the winemakers offers great value to savvy travellers who are looking to experiment first- hand.

Bordeaux is welcoming more and more wine-curious Chinese visitors who are combining leisure trips with cultural experiences. There are so many things to see and live in Bordeaux, starting with the one year old Cite du Vin, that it’s a must visit for all wine lovers!