Early on, Louis-Gaspard d’Estournel was already shipping his wines to Asia—to India as well as China and Macao. We spoke with Alexis Thierriaz, Business Development Director in Asia, to understand the particularities of this major market for the wines of Bordeaux and especially those of Cos d’Estournel.
I promote the visibility of the wines of Cos d’Estournel in all the Asian markets. Given its tremendous economic development and the size of its population, the greater Chinese market, including Hong Kong and Macao, has immense potential and is thus a priority for me. I work primarily with Bordeaux negociants, who remain our most valued partners in the distribution of our wines across the globe. I also maintain close ties between Cos d’Estournel and importers, distributors, hotels and restaurants, and, at the end of the distribution chain, the individuals who drink our wines.
Above all, it is about staying in contact on a daily basis and understanding the needs of the different players. This often means getting together in both formal and informal settings including tastings or masterclasses that give us an opportunity to explain the singular nature of Cos d’Estournel and its terroir and share our philosophy and the passion that drives us each and every day. Our presence in China allows us to focus attention on Cos d’Estournel and persuade our clients to share this passion. This is how they get to know us and understand we are ready to consecrate time and energy to their needs, how we build trust and create special relationships, relationships I seek to foster day in and day out.
Today there are two systems at work in China, one in continental China and another in more autonomous cities that remain nonetheless under Chinese authority such as Hong Kong and Macao. Understanding our clients and adapting to their needs require extensive knowledge of these systems, which are characterized by variable taxation: there are no taxes in Hong Kong whereas there is a 50% tax in continental China. A third system was recently implanted for digital players entailing a 20.2% tax and increasing the complexity of an already intricate customs framework.
The other particularity is of course the size of the market and the resulting cultural differences. Take consumer habits for example: rice wine has historically been preferred in certain regions whereas beer is more popular in others. To introduce a clientele that has only recently discovered wine to the subtleties of the wines of Cos d’Estournel, we must adapt our messages. The geographic immensity of the market also means different levels of purchasing power: an urban region like that of Shanghai is very wealthy whereas purchasing power may be significantly different in a more rural region like the Xinjiang.
The U.S. may have different legal and tax frameworks but many of the other market realities are familiar to us Europeans, whereas in China we face constant challenges in legal, cultural, fiscal and social terms. As China continues to evolve at an extremely rapid pace, we must demonstrate the highest degree of precision in our approach to the market.
Fortunately, the wines of Bordeaux are quite renowned in China, where the Bordeaux name stands for quality and the classified growth wines of 1855 are greatly appreciated for their prestige. Displaying one’s social status in professional contexts is very important to the Chinese, who enjoy serving exclusive wines such as the classified growths of Bordeaux at business meals or special dinners. This is also true in private milieux, where it is common to bring a bottle of wine to be shared with friends or family members during meals in the intimate private dining rooms of fine restaurants as a symbol of one’s success. Of course, our role is to see that Cos d’Estournel features prominently in these settings.
The singular history of Cos d’Estournel is unique and particularly meaningful for Asians, especially the Chinese. The estate’s different symbols resonate powerfully throughout Asia; it is amazing to see how the estate’s three pagodas, with their main central pagoda, resemble those found in southeast Asia. And the Chinese elephants and dragons on the estate’s turrets also impress our Asian visitors, who are moved by our singular identity, which is something that feels familiar to them. And then they fall under the spell of our wines, whose refined style, opulence and richness are greatly appreciated.
We communicate a great deal via our account on WeChat, a social network developed for the Chinese market that enjoys immense popularity; it is truly ubiquitous throughout daily life. We travel constantly and go wherever we need to meet our clients and consumers. In a country as vast as China, this requires tremendous dedication but meeting with our different partners and staying in touch with them is absolutely vital. On WeChat, they may follow the life of the estate, be it during the en primeur season, at harvest time or all throughout the year. This allows us to stay close to our clients and consumers and create feelings of loyalty and a true attachment to Cos d’Estournel among people based in major or less major cities, to which we also consecrate a great deal of time. But nothing is more powerful than the moment when we meet with our partners and speak with them face to face: this is when we begin creating these precious relationships.
Hong Kong is distinct from continental China: today it is most certainly the largest market in the world for Bordeaux’s classified growth wines as well as all other wines. While the consumer market receives a great deal of attention and may have reached a point of saturation, it is also a major export market and a crucial market in terms of image. Impressively enough, it is the city with the highest level of classified growth wine consumption per inhabitant. Cos d’Estournel’s auction of COS100 in Hong Kong in 2018 created a buzz in the wine industry from end consumers to importers and distributors, resulting in coverage in local and international media. We found ourselves in the spotlight in China and even throughout Asia, a wonderful turn of events in a market where prestige is also a byproduct of fame.
At the time of Louis Gaspard d’Estournel, who journeyed as far as Macao in the early 19th century, Cos d’Estournel was one of the first wines to be exported to China. And when the Chinese authorities began relaxing quotas in 1996, the first shipping container to arrive in China contained Cos d’Estournel.
We feel great pride, and our local partners great delight, to see history repeating itself, as we continue to strive to prove ourselves worthy, day in and day out.