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February 4, 2010

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Guru wine scribe tips his hat to China

AUSTRALIA'S leading wine writer James Halliday cut a swathe through China late last week, checking out the market, handing out awards and leaving fascinated by the country's development and its booming wine market.

He visited to conduct wine-tastings of products from Down Under and to announce winners in the inaugural Wine Australia Awards.

These went to ASC Fine Wines, wine retailer The Wine Way, the Kakadu Bar & Restaurant in Shanghai and freelance wine writer Denis Lin.

The winners will enjoy a fully sponsored, 10-day trip to Australia to explore the diversity of wines and wine regions as guests of the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation (AWBC).

"The Australians are going to hear it from me about the potential in China," says the expert commentator whose wine guide sells 50,000 copies a year in Australia to retailers and consumers and influences drinking trends.

"They have to decide whether to protect their UK and US markets which are under attack, or take a longer term view and allocate marketing support to build a business in China," he says.

It was Halliday's first wine-focused visit to China and included master classes in Shanghai and Beijing which were attended by more the 700 experts.

"There are as many Australian wine producers exporting to China as to the United States and when you look at Sino-Australian trade ties, the wine business will develop even if Australian wine makers aren't paying attention," he says.

The career wine writer was impressed by the knowledge of China's industry experts and journalists attending his tasting classes.

"I didn't think there'd be as much wine writing at these levels of expertise and I'm impressed by the level of understanding and involvement. They are quick learners who absorb information like a sponge," Halliday says.

He says the stratospheric growth of Australian wines "from nowhere is extraordinary" in China. The growth, he says, has paralleled the same period as China's boom.

Halliday believes wine makers themselves will start visiting in droves "when they understand the market, a personal involvement that worked" to build Australia's strength in the UK market.

ASC Fine Wine's CEO, Don St Pierre Jr, says he was honored by the award.

"It is a profound encouragement for us to continue our strong effort to work together with our Australian wine suppliers, media, Austrade and the AWBC to promote Australian wines as a brand for quality fine wines to the Chinese market," he says.

"We firmly believe these endeavors will not only benefit ASC but also the Australian wine industry and, ultimately and most importantly, the wine consumers in China," he adds.

The unique awards recognize a commitment to the promotion of wine and an interest in Australian wine across the trade - from sommeliers and food and beverage staff to writers, educators, retailers, restaurateurs, importers and distributors.


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