Wine will change China and China will change us

We are five hours into a thirteen-hour flight needed to get me home from China. I want to stretch my legs, but these Lufthansa seats are really squashed and I give myself over to my thoughts. As always, when I am on a plane, I try to digest all the information absorbed during my stay, but this time, it is more difficult. Thoughts are twisting and turning and overlapping in my mind. In order to be able to sell in any country, I think it is necessary to study it, to understand it and to absorb it, because Italian wine is culture, and culture cannot be imposed. Culture is taught little by little by a delicate insertion into the curiosity of the minds of others. How? In China, there are many barriers keeping us apart such as the language, food and distances. But what comforts me is that looking at history, where wine has arrived, it has always substituted other alcoholic beverages, becoming part and parcel of the daily life of the people, whoever they might be. The Chinese will be drinking more and more wine, and most certainly, a lot of it is going to be Italian. I believe that China will overcome its crises regarding the sale of some high quality and high-priced Italian products. I shall avoid the usual platitude that China has a billion people of a population, of whom a good percentage are extraordinarily rich, etc. I have simply observed and I have studied in detail China’s thousand-year old culture. Quite obviously in a week, it is not possible to understand much, but anyone who knows me knows how implacably curious I am when I start asking everyone questions … The Chinese have gone to great lengths to understand the characteristics of our wines and their relative matching. But once a thing has been explained to them with great patience, and once they have understood it, they become determined to grasp its potential like none other in the entire world.

I have been to Hong Kong, which is formally China, but is not considered as such, given it modern characteristics due to its previous Western colonisation. I have gone down to Ghuangzhou (Canton) in the south where the climate is really humid, where the people speak Cantonese – totally different to Mandarin – and the cuisine is lighter. It exploits is closeness to the very rich and untaxed Hong Kong, engaged in all sorts of business. I then flew up to the capital, Beijing (Peking), climatically a lot fresher, with its heavier and fat-based cuisine, better adapted to our alcoholic and tannin wines.  The people there are more conservative and more aristocratic.

I have met many Italians who speak Chinese and who, without work or any prospects in a static Italy, for €700 a month,  have come to make a life for themselves. They are hoping for a better life on €700 a month in China, a country on the road to very fast and dynamic development.

The Chinese are a ‘soft power’. In their culture, war is psychology and should be waged at table without blood being spilled. They are buying up energy because they need it so much, but their development has also to take space into account. Beijing with its 18 million inhabitants has the craziest of traffic ever seen and a continuous migration from the countryside into it …

Chinese culture, however, is not all ‘cheap’ as the products which are invading our markets. They have a history going back thousands of years and and when they get to know how to export it just as we are trying to export our own wines, then they will be masters of the world. Inevitably, the greatest potential purchasing power will be in the hand of the Chinese, and it is our good fortune that they like Italy. Therefore, we must concentrate on TOURISM AND QUALITY FOOD PRODUCTS. That is our future. The economic world order is moving east and we, therefore, have to learn the thousand-year old Chinese culture and embed it into our own so as to obtain its benefits.

My first official tasting on Chinese territory took place in Beijing, in a well-known jewellers where the precious stones were a backdrop for the Barolo Serralunga 2005. I did the tasting on the first occasion with a simultaneous interpreter, given that the majority of those present only spoke Mandarin. I am not accustomed to stopping to allow for the interpreting – these so-called ‘dead spots”. At times, they really annoy me.  Usually, in fact, I always try to make the tasting come across in a light and cheerful way.  However on this occasion, it was really hard work (take a look at the video clip). My tasting coincided with the arrival in China of ONAV, – the Italian National Winetasters’  Association which has its headquarters in Asti. They were there to teach the Chinese about wine. The AIS – the Italian Sommeliers’ Association – will also soon be up and running in China, and I believe that both organisations will be very important in spreading the news about Italian wine in China. The audience was composed  of both distributors and wealthy private individuals – all smiling and very gracious. My wine went down well, and they asked many ‘timid’ questions about land and production. As the evening drew to a close, they made me the gift of a very expensive Tibetan tea, made from some thirty types of tealeaves, in the shape of a royal Chinese emblem.  I have not yet drunk it because I do not want to open it and ruin its most elegant container, but I shall sooner or later, and I shall let you know all about it …