FROM CHINA WITH LOVE those who might not yet know, China is fast becoming the primary market for the most sought-after and prestigious wines in the world.

The auctions being held in Hong Kong, New York, London, and Geneva are breaking new records thanks to the participation of tycoons from the (new) land of the rising sun, who are willing to go to any length in order to claim the most prized lots for themselves. Just today, in Geneva, Christie’s sold an Impériale of 1947 Cheval Blanc for around 225,000 euros, a bottle that thereby becomes by far the most expensive in the world. And I will let you guess where it is headed.

For a couple of years now, China has had a tremendous thirst for the most celebrated of the Premier Cru di Bordeaux, Chateau Lafite, and requests for this wine have ensured that prices have risen literally to the stars. But the beautiful thing is that these gentlemen, who could have simply sat and waited for the orders to roll in without lifting a finger, have been working hard to target focused communications operations towards increasing the prestige of their labels and, as a consequence, demand. The 2008 vintage of Lafite, which will be put on the market in spring 2011, will bear a label with the Chinese symbol for the number “8”, which in those parts is synonymous with good fortune and eternal benediction. The mere announcement of this strategy caused the prices of the 2008 vintage to increase by 45% in the span of only nine days.

But why am I mentioning all of this? It is evident that China will be the new frontier for wines of true quality, and it is clear that the great French producers, especially in Bordeaux, are at an advantage due to the fame and historically high demand for their wines all over the world. But they are not resting idly on their laurels, and it is necessary to acknowledge that they are savvy in the communications arena. On the other hand, what are their Italian wine producer friends, who I am rooting for, doing for the Chinese market? What strategies are they are putting into action to effectively communicate our oenological excellence in the Far East?

I am aware that it will not be simple, especially if it is true that in China today wine is above all a fashion, and that one of the primary factors influencing the choice of a bottle of wine is the aesthetic beauty of its label (sic!). But what we have on our side is that the Chinese are particularly attracted by the Made in Italy brand (thank goodness!).

If any producers would like to contribute here, please do. It would be very interesting and instructive.