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"The appreciation of wine in China has changed a lot in the last few years. Chinese consumers absorb new trends very quickly," Gwen CHESNAIS, Wine Marketing Manager, Pernod Ricard China.

Interview and Photo By Ch'ng Poh Tiong

Born in Brittany in the north of France, Gwen CHESNAIS studied Chinese both at college and, later, at the Oriental Languages and Civilisation Institute in Paris because, in her own words, 'I was fascinated by the Chinese language and culture'. In 1992, the young French woman decided to go to China and, at the recommendation of her Chinese professor, headed for Chengdu in Sichuan Province. After spending a year at Sichuan University to improve her language skills, Chesnais returned again in 1994 to conduct research on tea culture and teahouses. In 1996, she went back to France but returned, in 2000, to Shanghai. Chesnais has now spent 10 years in China and is the Marketing Manager for Wines of French drinks giant Pernod Ricard China.

CPT: What was it like when you first came to China in 1992?

GC: In the early 1990s, especially in Chengdu, the country was not very open to international culture. It was a good and bad thing as I enjoyed meeting local people passionate about their own culture. Now it is very different for the good and bad too. Along with China opening up, came destruction of historical buildings and the uniformization of an urban architecture which means you could actually be anywhere in the world but not, instead, in China. Food culture is still preserved but there is a growing trend of fast-food and local food with less authenticity, especially in big cities like Shanghai where eating in a local restaurant is either for convenience or for business rather than for a real culinary experience.

Q: When did you get into the wine industry?

A: I got involved in the wine business in 2000, after I arrived in Shanghai, and have stayed with it until now.

Q: From that time to now, has wine appreciation changed in China?

A: The appreciation of wine in China has changed a lot in the last few years. Chinese consumers absorb new trends very quickly and together with the health benefits associated with it, wine has become more popular. Up to a few years ago and, probably still in the case in some more remote cities, you could see people adding soft drinks or ice to the most expensive chateaux from Bordeaux. Now, though, in the big cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou, people enjoy wine during dinner in restaurants or sometimes after dinner in wine bars. These Chinese consumers are also looking for occasions to improve their knowledge and this is reflected by the number of wine tastings and dinners organized by the importers around the country.

Q: How would you describe the Chinese market?

A: China is not one market but several markets. It is very fragmented because Chinese have different tastes from north to south. In Shanghai, for example, you would find ladies drinking white wine even outside of meals while in Beijing, red wine dominates particularly Cabernet Sauvignon as this is also the main grape for local Chinese wine. Red wine is also mainly consumed in the south of China though wine in general is less developed. Grape varietals are not very well-known there but Shiraz and Cabernet would be the most well received. In the south west of China, where Sichuan and Hunan are, the food is more spicy, and full-bodied red wines from Australia, Chile or Argentina make good pairings or even whites such as Gewurztraminer could be a good match with some dishes.

Q: What of the future for the Chinese market?

A: As China will become one of the biggest wine markets in the future, we will see more and more wines entering the market as everybody wants a piece of the cake. Chinese consumers' knowledge of wine will continue to develop and premium and super premium wines will increase their share of the market. Eventually, whites will become more popular in regions other than Shanghai especially among women once there is more education about it. I also believe home consumption will further develop as some connoisseurs will entertain more at home showing they are well-educated and have good wine knowledge. These same people will most probably also have their own private collection of wines.

Gwen Chesnais' favourite Chinese dishes with wines

  • Cantonese dim sum -> Champagne Mumm de Cramant
  • Hairy Crab -> Simmonet-Febvre Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2005
  • Beijing Roast Duck -> Louis Latour Cotes de Beaune Village 2005
  • Hangzhou Beggar's Chicken -> Jacob's Creek St Hugo Cabernet Sauvignon 2003
  • Leshan Spicy Chicken -> Campo Viejo Gran Reserva 2001

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