Tasting Shanghai

Peking Duck being prepared for table side service at DaDong, Shanghai

Last week 30 media from 23 countries around the world traveled to Shanghai to attend a day-long media summit followed by ProWine China. Arriving a day early, we were able to spend a day touring wine bars, retail shops, importers and distributors in various neighborhoods of the city as well. I stayed on another two days in order to speak at ProWine and then take a private tour of the city. Though I’d traveled through the Shanghai airport, this my first trip into the city itself. It was fascinating and I learned an enormous amount about the local history and culture, doing wine business in China, how wine growing is progressing in China, and local cuisine. So much local cuisine. I honestly spent most of my spare time eating. It was wonderful. I’ll be writing more about aspects of the trip for various venues. In the meantime, following are insights shared along the way via Instagram while I was there in Shanghai.

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Singles Day, November 11 – 11,11: It turns out today is one of the most important cultural days, and biggest shopping days of the year in China. The commerce house, Alibaba, started Singles Day in 2009 as a sales, social, and cultural activity and it quickly spread to shops and businesses throughout the country. Alibaba actually piggybacked the shopping concept on the back of a cultural celebration by young people of being single that started in the country’s universities in the 1980s. It eventually also became the most popular day for getting married. On the sales side, shops begin long in advance promoting not only discounts but also special items that are only available this time of the year and sometimes for as little as only one-hour of the day. On both sides, then, for the shops and the shoppers Singles Day is quite competitive. It is a unique cultural event though as well in that the older generations still alive today literally did not grow up shopping. The very notion of going to shops for casual shopping as we take for granted in not only the United States but in many other countries of the world as well simply did not exist in China until recently. However in recent decades, wealth in China has grown so rapidly and new tools for buying and selling have appeared simultaneously as well. The movement of goods and money, then, occurs here in ways little understood in other parts of the world. Singles Day originated as part of this cultural evolution and though it sounds like merely a shopping and marketing event perhaps similar to Black Friday In the United States, it is at the same time a sort of social communication and cultural celebration as well. Things like people dressing up for photo shoots, for example, increase as well, as well as new goods and never before seen cultural trends are also introduced. #shanghai

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Merely twenty years ago visitors to China had to bring their own supplies from toiletries, including toilet paper, to clothing, to computers, the printer and printing cartridges, and all of the amenities we take for granted in countries like the United States as if they are essential when in reality they are merely cultural norms we have gotten used to. Shopping also essentially did not yet exist as shops themselves did not yet truly exist in the way we think of them outside China. Today, multiple level malls and shops integrated into every aspect of the city are instead standard. (Though in this case the celebration of Singles Day means the mall is quite empty as most are busy shopping online.) In a mere twenty years the economic force and truly global power of the Chinese economy has increased at a speed hard for most outside China to fathom. In those twenty years the marketing acumen of China has shown itself as well, with companies and goods here undergoing three or four waves of development. (1) The arrival of international companies. Haagen-Daaz, for example, moved into China with shops earlier than many other companies. (2 and 2.1) Brands that were clearly developed here in China to fulfill the same role as these sorts of international companies and brands. Today, these sorts have brands have evolved to a point where by appearance and quality it is not obvious if they originate in China or internationally.(3) Internationally, now many brands that are iconic for their country have been purchased by Chinese ownership as a way to move into the international market. Volvo, MG cars, Lenovo computers, are all examples. There are also more modestly sized such companies that have not been advertised as under new Chinese ownership. Numerous modestly sized Chateaus in France are also examples. In each cases, rather than over extend or build distribution the companies chosen are already sustainably established economically and the buyer has already ensured distribution is in place. So far most Chinese brand movement into international markets has occurred through this sort of buy-in rather than from Brands originated in China becoming global. #shanghai

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Sales transactions in China occur in a sort of circular fashion that means paper cash and traditional banks are almost on the verge of disappearing. For example, the social media app WeChat does not merely operate for text exchanges. Instead it is also a sales mechanism through which food deliveries can be ordered, co-op bicycles can be rented, and goods can be purchased. These transactions are owned and/or run by WeChat and are purchased using what is essentially WeChat’s own internal currency. It is a kind of multi-level ownership of the goods, the distribution, and even the currency itself we do not see in the United States. WeChat is merely one example of a company that operates in this sort of internal circle of exchange. While money must ultimately be exchanged to pay for the transactions, the frequency of interactions with traditional banks is comparatively non existent and only tourists continue to use cash. #shanghai

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Learning about the upper end restaurant wine scene in Shanghai from NAPA wine bar & restaurant GM and wine director Edward Lee. The word napa means not afraid. Eleven years ago when the restaurant opened as a small wine bar it was the first dedicated wine bar in Shanghai and immediately became a popular destination in the city. At the time around 60% of the clientele was from expats living in Shanghai with the rest Chinese locals. In 2015, NAPA moves to a larger location and expanded its food selection. It’s success swiftly increased while the clientele proportions shifted over time to around 95% locals. When the restaurant opened consumers were primarily seeking top end Bordeaux. Today, that interest has shifted primarily to Burgundy though also Barolo and some other highly regarded wines of the world. Mostly, the Chinese palate is still not accustomed to high acid wines, though that is changing, while highly tannic wines are an easy segue from tannic tea culture. In Shanghai there are multiple WSET schools throughout the city with numerous students and graduates. The Court of Master Sommeliers has some presence here though it is comparatively smaller. #shanghai

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And here is most of why I love what I do – Alex and I met in 2017 in NZ as he was there working harvest and I was there shadowing producers through harvest. We shared Easter dinner together at Aurum winery, where he was working. He’s also worked for Bindi in Australia and Dujac in Burgundy. Today, he is back in China where he commutes between Shanghai and the Yunnan province. In Yunnan he has planted several hectares of primarily Pinot, as well as some Chardonnay and just a hint of Riesling. The site stands at 2800 meters elevation in basaltic soils (one of the highest vineyards in the world). Their nearest neighbor had a 160-day long growing season (one of the very longest in the world). We spent the morning talking through his plant material, high elevation viticulture, how he got here, and what is next. Such a fascinating and exciting project I hope to visit in the next few years. Lucie! Michael! Look who found me! Thanks so much for the visit, Alex! Great to see you! #shanghai @a_____xu @aurumwineslucie @bindiwines

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Master of Wine Neil Tully, who has studied and worked in wine branding and packaging for over 25 years, deconstructing the visual language of wine beyond the wine itself, and how wine communication via wine packaging and labels has evolved significantly. The point being that the non-verbal, visual cues are far stronger than the words themselves. In developing effective brand communication, Neil is also relying on semiotics to consider the way effective packaging has worked previously and can evolve effectively moving forward. One of the things seen is that regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy have changed visual cues over time very little, while regions like South Africa has changed and continues to quite swiftly. #proweinmediasummit @amphoradesign (plus how fun is it to travel California with Neil for ten days last month then this month step on the bus in Shanghai and find we get to travel China together a mere ten days later!)

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North Asia PR Manager for Treasury Wine Estates, Tommy Tse, discussing unique brand communication Treasury has developed called Living Labels. The technology uses augmented reality (similar to that originally seen with the Pokémon game) where ones phone sees reality there through the camera and screen that is then augmented with interactive material. The style of the brand determines the style of material available for interaction. 19 Crimes, for example, offers the reenactments of historic prisoners sent to Australia. The brand Living Dead becomes almost game like with fighting zombies between multiple Living Dead wines. Beringer, on the other hand, gives the story of the founding brothers journey to America. The take away is that across the world few younger consumers care about winemaker and vineyard, and instead are motivated by experience and surprise more primarily. #proweinmediasummit

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Celebrated writer and editor Suzanne Mustacich talking about how to effectively communicate about wine reaching the widest audience possible. “Narrative non-fiction should read like a novel. I think there are a lot of missed opportunities in wine writing to tell a story and reach a wide audience.” Suzanne has a BA in Economics and Political Science and an MA in creative writing focused on crime fiction. She was also previously a television producer. When writing: (1) Think about your audience. (2) Develop your unique voice as if it is a character you are developing for your reader. (3) Tell the story in a way that respects what your particular audience is reasonably going to know. People are busy with their own lives, don’t expect them to know everything. But don’t expect them to have endless time either. (4) A great story has a sense of place, a narrative, a sense of transformation – something happens, distinctive voice, history, and style. #proweinmediasummit

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Completely fascinating discussion of how wine influencers operate in China with one of the country’s biggest influencers, Xiaopi – the work done by influencers often occurs within China’s social media platform, WeChat, simultaneously relying on wine education, winery stories, and wine sales fully integrated into electronic buying and networking communities. The most important influencers have several hundred-thousand to 1.5 million followers who are not only reading and following the influencer but also communicating with each other in response to the influencer’s work, and buying wine (from the influencer) based on the influencer’s recommendations. The system operates as a kind of internal circle without the limits of the three-tier system seen in France or the United States, and with the understanding that of course someone is paying the influencers for implicit advertising. It is an entirely different approach than seen elsewhere and the mind boggling nature of the details is a great shake up for so much of what we take for granted in Europe and the United States. #prowineshanghai

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In China, 9kacha is an instant buying app that relies only on label recognition without any need to know the wine name or information. Scan the label with your phone camera and instantly all of the wine information, community and expert reviews, similar wine suggestions and price comparisons pop up. Push the red (buy now) or blue (price compare and store in cart) buttons and buy your wine label-to-purchase in less than 30 seconds. (Here, in the demonstration I received, the WiFi connection was running slow and it still took a mere 35 seconds.) The app is also being developed for other non-beverage goods such as shoes, books, food, etc. In China, instant scanning of all sorts is not only ubiquitous but the foundation of much communication, exchange, entertainment, and purchasing. It is quite literally a way of life. #prowineshanghai

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My new friends in Shanghai following me on China’s social media app, WeChat. To follow anyone online in China instead of typing in their name, you simply scan their QR code from their phone to yours. Public figures and companies advertise their QR codes for people to scan and follow. Business cards are printed with QR codes as well. WeChat is one of the most powerful communication tools used across all of China. It functions like a synthesis of texting, SnapChat, PayPal, online shopping, blogging, and online magazines all together as one. Countrywide purchasing, picture and file sharing, texting, marketing, publishing, and businesses, etc all occur within WeChat. The instant recognition and information power of QR code scanning is just one aspect of how it works and one of the keys to getting started. #prowineshanghai

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Standing beneath the three tallest buildings in Shanghai. The one on the right is the oldest, built by the Chinese government as part of the financial center in the Pudong area of the city. Next, a Japanese company built the one on the left and it became the tallest in the city. Not to be outdone by the work of another country, the Chinese government built the third, now tallest building, seen here in the center. Just completed, only small portions of it have opened, and not yet the highest stories. Chinese views of feng shui see the Japanese building design as too sharp, like a knife. It’s effect is to cut, which is not right for business. The newest Chinese building is a series of spiraling sections rising to the very top. It is fluid and elegant, while strong, and the oldest of the three reads as a contemporary update of a classical, also elegant style. I have to admit the two Chinese designs are quite beautiful. #shanghai

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Fantastic dinner at Canton Table on the Bund (the beautiful river front area of Shanghai on the old town side) followed by a walk through the lights of the city. The Bund has preserved the old buildings and made the area solely dedicated to banks and restaurants, with a few high end boutiques. Many of the buildings literally have a different themed restaurant per floor, in some buildings with one restauranteur behind each one. Canton Table is inside one of the most celebrated of these buildings both for the building itself, (shown here) known as Three on the Bund, and for the quality of the restaurants inside. A friend arranged an evening for me being shown around Shanghai and my host and I enjoyed dinner in our own private room with our own servers. Canton Table serves traditional Hong Kong style cuisine updated slightly. The food was fantastic and such an exploration of subtlety and flavor. A big part of my time here has been keeping an eye out for foods and treats I have never tried before and so far nothing has been disappointing. This really is a fascinating, wonderful city. #shanghai #shanghaifood

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Utterly brilliant. Some of the smartest adaptation to a new market I have ever seen – Penfolds Spirited Wine with Baijiu. Drinking wine is a very new phenomenon in China with only a very small portion of the population drinking it today. Instead, most drinking in China has been of Baijiu, China’s distilled spirit made of rice or grain (people sometimes joke, or tires, as the drink is unbelievably strong and rough to drink). The wine market is steadily expanding but part of how is through beverages that expand the wine concept and bridge the gap between the temporality and variability of a drink like wine with the constancy and reliability of a drink like Baijiu. Penfolds brilliantly made a fortified Shiraz using Baijiu as the added spirit. The result is a smoothed out, more pleasant flavored drink than just Baijiu that still has a Baijiu flavor in the finish. Wine purists will hate this drink but it’s whole point, from what I can tell, is precisely that wine idealism is not always the way to connect to people. It finishes at 20.5% alcohol. While this might not be my go to drink for dinner, I am deeply impressed by the creative thinking shown here and would happily drink this out of respect for my hosts in China. When I was given straight Baijiu I must confess that to be respectful I had to pretend to drink it but was unable to actually drink it. #prowineshanghai @penfolds Thank you to Robert Joseph for making sure I tasted this, and for the photo @legrandnoirwine . POST UPDATED WITH CORRECT PRODUCTION INFO after return to internet access for accurate research.

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