Potel: ‘beautiful future’ for Burgundy in Asia

17th June, 2014 by Rupert Millar

Burgundian producer Nicolas Potel has said that the region has a real future in Asia but that it must also realise there may be limitations to its ambitions.

EmelyNicolas-potel1-480x265Speaking to the drinks business at the offices of the Asian distributor of his estate Domaine de Bellene, l’Imperatrice, Potel said there was a “real and beautiful future in Asia” for Burgundy and indeed Pinot Noir from around the world.

“I was in a restaurant last night and we had a New Zealand Pinot and one from Oregon and it was perfect,” he said.

“Asian people love acidity you know. They also love a lot of tannic wines but you look at them with the cuisine and to me it doesn’t make sense. Chinese food and Burgundy is a great combination.”

That one can walk into a Chinese restaurant today and be provided with wine glasses if you bring your own bottle is, said Potel, a remarkable sign of how far Asia has come in the last 20 years.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in Asia and I always said, the day you have Chinese restaurants serving wine it will be a big sign. They don’t always have a list but you can bring your own and they’ll give you a glass. It’s a big change in mentality.”

Nonetheless, there is still some way to go and, for Burgundy at least, Potel cautions that a more realistic, education-driven and above all personal approach is the best way for the region to cement its position in Asia.

There is a growing interest in Burgundy throughout Asia as palates develop and curiosity about wine deepens and Potel says this is “normal” and following a pattern laid down in markets like Japan and the US 20 to 30 years ago.

“Wine is complicated, people have no time to learn, they work like crazy. But they’re starting to understand. I think many thought Burgundy couldn’t age to begin with.

“Now, as they taste older vintages they see that it can age. It’s normal. you need to go through an education of taste to come to Burgundy.”

On the other hand, exporting cheaply to Asia is next to impossible, which makes what are already quite expensive wines less than an everyday choice for most blossoming wine enthusiasts.

“It’s difficult for ‘drinkers’ to afford the wines,” admitted Potel. “Sure there’s more money in Asia but drinkers here are like anyone, they can’t afford a bottle at €100 or more every day.”

His goal, therefore, is to target high-end restaurants and get sommeliers to sell the wine and find the consumers that really appreciate it.

“You need to make your own ‘groupies’,” he says cautioning that that there are perhaps too many producers coming to Asia and expecting to do business as it used to be in the US during the glory days where merchants and distributors bought cases by the hundred.

“It’s not like that in Asia,” said Potel. “Restaurants have lots of private rooms, they like privacy. For the price we’re selling wine for, we have to offer something special.”

It is a strategy that has served him well since he first began visiting Asia some 20 years ago. Private lunches and dinners are much appreciated by buyers across Asia particularly in Taipei he notes.

But he also adds that there needs to be a limit to Burgundy’s ambitions in Asia and a realisation (for the whole wine trade perhaps) that despite the room to grow that certainly exists there may very well be a substantial part of the Asian population that will never drink wine.

“You can’t bring in the whole population, it’s not in their tradition, their culture. It’ll take 100’s maybe a 1,000 years to change that,” he said.

“There’ll only be a small part of Asia that will become wine drinkers. A great part never will.”

Not to end on a down note however, he stressed that China and Asia were on the right track but producers needed a long term plan and had to be aware that you “don’t change a whole population in one generation.”

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