Wine professionals increasingly talk about cool climate wine, but what does the term mean and how do you sell it to Chinese wine-lovers?
Included on the programme at the ninth HKTDC Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Fair was a seminar titled, Uncover the Opportunities of the New Cool Climate Wine Trend. Internationally renowned speakers tried to pinpoint the potential opportunities for so-called cool climate wines.
Debra Meiburg, MW, who facilitated the informative panel discussion, asked several pertinent questions. What is a cool climate wine? Do consumers understand the term? Which areas are producing cool climate wines? Which new areas will do so after a prolonged period of climate change? How will these changes affect the way people drink throughout the world, and in particular in Hong Kong and China?
What makes the topic even more interesting is the fact cool climate wines are mostly white wines. So what would be the
best way to introduce these wines to the Chinese market in a country where most people still prefer reds?
No geography, no home
British wine expert and writer Robert Joseph says a cool climate is appropriate for growing grapes for fine wine, with the latter stages of ripening occurring during autumn. “Yes, cool climate is a definition, but it’s also a state of mind. This involves innovation and facing challenges and this is where winemakers come in,” he says.
The problem with trying to pin down the exact location of a cool climate wine-growing region is that it has no geography, no home. In the past cool climate wine was what certain regions in Burgundy and Bordeaux were all about, but when you look at the term cool climate wine, it’s not only about temperature, it’s also about intense sunlight. “It involves looking at the whole picture of moisture, coldness, sunlight and temperature,” Robert says.
Perfect places to grow cool climate wine? Think Marlborough in New Zealand, Switzerland, England, Germany and Canada. And locally, think Constantia, Elgin, Darling, Elim and Durbanville.
Use the right words
Over the past 30 years there have been tremendous changes in the wine market on the Chinese mainland. Like most developed countries, the general trend is in line with developments in the catering industry, but it’s also affected by policies implemented by the Chinese government.
Ma Huiqin, professor in the department of fruit tree sciences at China Agriculture University’s College of Agriculture and Biotechnology, says Chinese consumers’ knowledge of wine has deepened and expanded in scope on the one hand, but on the other wines have become more cheap and cheerful.
“Cool climate wine is a concept refined and strengthened in accordance with the profound changes in the production and consumption of wine in the international wine industry,” she says. “Chinese consumers have just begun to learn more about cool climate wine.”
So how do we position cool climate wine in the Chinese mainland market? And what keywords do we use to promote these wines?
“The Chinese are the biggest cellphone users in the world,” Professor Huiqin says. “WeChat might be a good platform to promote these wines. Use popular tourist destinations for the Chinese and focus on mature consumers and professionals. A good story is important, just as important as transferring knowledge.
“When promoting these wines, choose your words carefully. Use words such as elegant, acidity, tight structure, restricted yield, beautify nature and limited supply.”
Put change on your wine list
Christine Parkinson, group head of wine at Hakkasan, says three things are key when selling cool climate wines or putting them on your wine list: Select the right wines to buy, list them for best effect and give staff the skills to sell them effectively.
When you select wines for your wine list, Christine says understanding the quality levels is important. Equally important is understanding the impact of vintage variation and what goes into making the wine, because cool climate wines differ from their warmer region counterparts and this could affect how you pair them with food.
“You go to a restaurant to eat. Wine needs to complement the food. Cool climate wines have a different flavour and structure. They’re less fruity and flavour is not always the main feature. They also have high acidity and firm tannins. Think about what can go wrong with your food-and-wine pairing and how to make sure it doesn’t.”
When listing these wines, Christine says it’s important to make cool climate wines appealing on your wine list. It should be designed to support your cool climate wine choices and offer these wines by glass. The wines should relate to the food and be listed according to style and flavour rather than cultivar or region.
Giving staff the skills to sell these wines effectively requires a specific vocabulary to describe them. “Use words such as crisp, textured and refreshing. Use words for wine – they should always sound friendly.”
What has made cool climate wines go mainstream when they were barely mentioned a few years ago and what contributed to this change? Leading French wine critic and co-writer of the Guide Bettane & Desseauve, Michel Bettane, believes we’re increasingly excited about cool climate wines because of their balance.
Cool climate wines share the intrinsic characteristics of balance and drinkability, he says. “Wines are made to drink, not taste. If you call cool climate wines balanced, maybe there were too many imbalanced wines before. Balance and drinkability are the most important factors when it comes to wine. Education is key if you want cool climate wines to go mainstream. Use the concept of cool climate wine with Chinese food. Now there’s an opportunity!”
In a South African context, wine grape growers need to get together and look at geographic locations where cool climate wines can be produced successful whether its Elgin or Elim, Darling or Durbanville. Cool climate wines is a trend going paces. If consumers in China are getting more and more excited about these wines, we need to listen carefully and act fast.