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Staples: Chinese wine boom never happened

The widely reported fine wine boom in China never really happened according to Simon Staples of Berry Bros & Rudd.

Simon Staples holds court in the Berry Bros dining room
Simon Staples holds court in the Berry Bros dining room

Speaking to the drinks business at a lunch held at BBR’s London office this week, Staples said: “I think it’s been a bit of a case of Chinese whispers.

“The wine boom we think has happened in China hasn’t actually happened – it’s a bit of a smoke and mirrors situation. It’s incredibly difficult to get wine into the mainland legally, what with the handling fees and 50% tax.

“The Chinese are also very funny about what they pay for things,” Staples added in relation to consumers not wanting to pay over the odds for fine wine.

Consumers in Hong Kong are showing an interest in Barolo from boutique producers

Speaking of how the recent austerity measures in China had dramatically curbed the country’s spending on fine wine, Staples remained upbeat.

“It’s good to be able to go back to being a merchant again and be selling wines rather than a commodity like stocks and shares. We’ve been selling a lot of our own label Bordeaux, which is doing really well,” he said.

As Chinese consumers turn their backs on Bordeaux, Staples reports increased interest in wines from boutique producers in Spain and Italy.

“Buying a Chanel bag is not what it used to be in Hong Kong – it’s viewed like you don’t know what you’re doing. The same thing is happening in the wine world regarding those that buy Lafite,” he said.

“The learning curve in Hong Kong has been astonishing. Wine consumers are now incredibly sharp and are showing off their sophisticated knowledge by buying wines from small producers in Barolo like Bartolo Mascarello.

“Buying Sassicaia is too easy and blatant for them now,” he added.

In terms of Spain, Staples reports strong sales in Hong Kong of wines from Rioja, particularly El Pison from Artadi, along with Ribera del Duero and Priorat.

Having worked as BBR’s sales director for Asia in Hong Kong since late 2011, at the end of the month Staples will move to Japan where he will be based in Tokyo.

“No one wants to voice an opinion in Japan so I’ve been sent in to shake things up. I’ve been given carte blanche and am going to absolutely bombard it,” he said. Staples has worked for Berry Bros & Rudd for 18 years.

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