Q: What differentiates Vanquish wines from its competitors?
A: There are plenty of traders out there who sell wine as a commodity, but very few who have experience in dealing with older wine like we do. Essentially, we break the rules; we have this sense of anything goes, and we don’t have a 300-year-old history holding us back. As a company, we are also small and nimble – it’s really important to us that clients deal with just me or my partner directly. It’s easy to send an email saying “Dear all” to 1,000 people. But what we like to do, for example, is make a personal list of what wines people might be interested in. This takes longer, but the results are huge. And this kind of strategy is even more applicable in China than in Europe. People really appreciate personalized service here.
Q: What is Vanquish’s current position in China?
A: Hong Kong has become very much the wine hub of the region – if not the world – since duties were dropped in 2008. That market has become very significant for us. This is the first time we have actually been to mainland China, though. It’s really important for us to come here and understand what’s happening – it doesn’t matter if we don’t sell a bottle of wine on this two-week trip. We’re aiming to create relationships that we can build upon. People sometimes forget that in Europe, it seems to be all about transactions, but there is a greater emphasis on building relationships in China. We have started our outreach into Beijing and Shanghai and have a few clients in both cities. The next step will be to move into other cities.
Q: What’s happening in the Chinese wine market now?
A: A two-tier market seems to have developed. On one side, there are those who grab certain brands that are very hot – wines that are seen as “the bottle to do a business deal with.” But we have also seen a real passion to understand more about wine – and we’ve had a lot of fun with those people. It’s wrong to characterize the consumer boom here as just a love of all things Western. It isn’t about Chloe or Fendi handbags – it’s an exploration of new tastes. People want to know more about wine, and even though this market might be smaller than the “brand-driven” group right now, eventually it will be the biggest. That’s the basis for long-term market growth.
Q: How have China’s wine tastes changed over the years?
A: For a long time, wine in China was about local brands. But there is so much more to it now. In regular supermarkets, for example, there are so many different wines available from Italy, Australia, France and many other countries. Wine is being consumed here every single day at a rate that is beyond comprehension. For the wine market, that’s exciting. At the same time, it’s creating a shortage in supply that is unfortunately driving prices up to a level which is unaffordable for a lot of people.
Q: What are Vanquish’s future plans?
A: By the end of the year, we will probably have a base in Hong Kong that can manage our presence in China. There is just so much potential; the growth may experience slowdowns, but it will continue to rise. We want to create genuine long-term relationships with traders and private customers. Given our unique strategy and knowledge of rare and vintage wines, we hope that as the market matures, this will play right into our hands. It’s very easy to go for short-termism, and to only focus on transaction opportunities. But I feel very strongly that we are going to take a long-term view here. My philosophy has always been to have good business ethics and really understand your customers.
Q: What are the main challenges for developing your business in China?
A: There haven’t been too many so far. The Chinese really know how to negotiate. As long you are open to a bilateral relationship, where you engage in an “I do something for you, you do something for me” attitude, you will be fine. Obviously, there are language barriers, but wine is a social and cultural leveler. So, wherever you are, it’s all about the wine.
Q: It has been estimated that in 50 years, China will be the world’s largest producer of wine by volume. What do you think of this claim?
A: There have been significant moves in Chinese wine production, especially in terms of major European wine producers purchasing vineyards here. Tests have also shown that the country’s soil can produce good quality wines, as long as people have the technical know-how. Becoming the world’s largest wine producer is probably a slight exaggeration, but I can imagine in a generation, China will be a very significant player.