Top 10 most influential women in China’s wine tradeBy Natalie Wang
Here are the top 10 most influential women in mainland China’s wine trade that have helped shape today’s market either in domestic wine production, imported wine sector or the fast expanding e-commerce sector.
In the imported wine sector, Aline Bao from the country’s leading importer COFCO Wine and Wine, and Cynthia Yang, tasked with global wine procurement at China’s second largest E-commerce giant JD.com, are key decision-makers that affect the wines sold in China in physical retail and online stores.
Looking inward to China’s own wine production, we are pleased to see four key women in China’s Ningxia, Xinjiang and Shanxi are lifting the country’s reputation as a wine producer, with their well crafted wines, be it from Silver Heights, Grace Vineyard, Tiansai Vineyards or Kanaan Winery.
Education is another key factor in any wine market’s growth. Hence, we selected two leading educators that helped to spread wine knowledge on the mainland. Of course, there’s also another rising online influencer who is said to “have converted more people to wine drinkers than any other retailer, media, or platform in China”.
The ranking is in no particular order and focuses only on personalities in mainland China, hence excluding Hong Kong’s powerful trio, Jeannie Cho Lee MW, Debra Meiburg MW and Sarah Heller MW.
Click through the pages to find out who are the women shaping today’s Chinese wine market.
Wang Shenghan, a Brown University graduate, better known as Lady Penguin, took the wine community by storm when she started posting wine reviews and videos on Sina Weibo, China’s equivalent of Facebook, that quickly attracted over millions of followers.
Today, Wang has turned her brand into a leading online wine retailer and social media platform of 1.5 million fans and produces a popular wine show with over 200 million views, according to her website. In 2016, her company reportedly had RMB 25 million (US$3.7 million) worth of turnover, and her brand attracted RMB 15 million (US$2.2 million) investment.
Her videos in particular have attracted more attention, and content ranges from how to use wine glass, comparing wine colour with lipstick shades or even drinking bubbles wines in bubble baths are among top clicks. Her sensational investigation that alleges that at least 80% of Penfolds, one of the most popular imported wine brands in China, sold online is fake pushed her to the centre of attention when Penfolds fiercely refuted the story.
The online influencer’s presence is felt on Wechat, Sina Weibo as well as DouYin, a snap-chat like video sharing app.
Li Meiyu, wine director of Park Hyatt Beijing
Li Meiyu is a leading sommelier in mainland China’s wine scene, responsible for overseeing wine lists and programmes at Park Hyatt hotel in Beijing.
“I visited Burgundy and fell in love with the wine after tasting about 20 different kinds. One of the best parts of being a sommelier must be the opportunity to travel all over the world and discovering so many styles,” she said.
Studied and trained in France’s CAFA school, Li joined Park Hyatt Beijing in 2011 to work as a sommelier. In the inaugural Best Sommelier Competition for French Wines organised by Sopexa in mainland China, she saw off tough competition and became the first winner.
Li is also one of the first Chinese female sommelier to obtain Advanced Sommelier title, a title till today is only given to nine professionals in mainland China.
Li worked her way up from sommelier to become the wine director at Park Hyatt Beijing, now overseeing wine lists and all wine related programmes.
National Education Director of ASC Fine Wine and WSET diploma holder, Dorian has has a wealth of experiences in the wine trade having previously worked as a Sommelier in the US for more than five years. She is deemed as one of the most respectable wine educators within mainland China. For two years, Tang won “Best Educator of the Year” by Wine Australia in 2014 and 2018 for her work in promoting Australian wine education in China related to course design, teaching delivery and student support and learning goals.
She is also a judge for Wine 100.
Aline Bao, COFCO Wine & Wine International Co Ltd
Aline Bao is the deputy general manager of procurement centre and e-commerce centre at COFCO Wine & Wine International Co Ltd, the wine and spirits importing arm of conglomerate COFCO Foodstuff. Founded in 2014, the company has quickly become one of the leading wine importers in mainland China, and is arguably the biggest Bordeaux En Primeur buyer in mainland China.
Working closely with Castle Li, head of COFCO Wine & Wine and GreatWall Winery, Bao is in charge of wine purchase for COFCO, from Australian wines to Bordeaux En Primeur.
A seasoned veteran in China’s wine trade, Bao also amassed valuable experiences on e-commerce channel with her previous role at YesMyWine.com.
Cynthia Yang, senior manager at JD.com
It’s hard not to marvel at the scale of China’s massive e-commerce market when its annual turnover in 2017 alone amounted to US$4.26 trillion, higher than Germany’s entire GDP (US$4.21 trillion).
Tmall.com, the retail platform of China’s biggest e-commerce company Alibaba, leads the country’s online retail scene with a market share of more than 50%, followed by JD.com, the country’s second biggest e-commerce company.
Cynthia Yang, is in charge of wine procurement at JD.com, overseeing its portfolio. As senior manager at JD.com, Yang is currently studying WSET diploma 4, and has travelled to more than 20 different wine producing countries. Yang has also worked as a wine judge for Concours Mondial de Bruxelles 2018 in Beijing.
JD.com’s move on e-commerce sector be it wine or other product categories is bound to have impacts on the trade. The country’s preferential policy to grow cross-border e-commerce trade is also expected to lure more producers and wineries to sell wines directly to the mainland with reduced taxes.
Emma Gao, Silver Heights
Emma Gao is the formidable winemaker behind China’s leading boutique winery Silver Heights in northern China’s Ningxia, and is credited as one of the forefront vintners revolutionising consumers’ attitude towards Chinese wines.
A certified oenologist trained in Bordeaux, Gao studied oenology at Bordeaux University and later honed her winemaking skills at Château Calon-Ségur, where she met her husband Thierry Courtade, winemaker at the estate.
Her first vintage, 2007, was greeted with applause from domestic and international wine experts. Her 100% Cabernet Sauvignon ‘Emma’s Reserve’ and a Bordeaux blend ‘The Summit’ are among the most prized China produced reds. In recent years, the winery expanded its range to include a white, a Burgundy style Chardonnay, and its most recent ‘The Last Warrior’ series. Her wines are now also sold in Hong Kong through Watson’s Wine.
Chen Lizhong of Tiansai Vineyards
Having worked in China’s judicial system as a judge and later in the automobile industry, Chen Lizhong’s foray into wine was quite a career change. Her winery, Tiansai Vineyards, is considered as a market leader in China and is located over 1,100 metres above sea level in Yanqi of China’s northwestern Xinjiang.
Producing wines mainly from Bordeaux grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, the winery was one of the first wineries in the region to be certified organic by Chinese authorities and has two seasoned winemakers consulting on its team, including China’s foremost wine expert Li Demei and Lilian Carter, former winemaker for Pernod Ricard’s Helan Moutain Wines in Ningxia province.
From her first vintage in 2012, Chen’s wine range has expanded to include a Merselan and a Chardonnay. Her wines are also sold in Hong Kong via East Meets West Fine Wines.
Judy Chan of Grace Vineyards
Born in Hong Kong, Judy Chan left a career with Goldman Sachs to take over Shanxi-based Grace Vineyard from her father in 2002 at the tender age of 24. Since then she has turned Grace Vineyard into both a globally recognised brand and a flagship for Chinese fine wine.
Not only has she improved the quality of her wines, but she has built a successful and viable business model for a boutique family winery in China. Producing wines from flagship red blend ‘Deep Blue’ to top cuvee ‘Chairman’s Reserve’ and most recently a range of sparkling wines, the winery’s wines are seen on the wine lists of major restaurants and hotels across the country, and are exported abroad. In 2018, she opened another chapter for her company by publicly listing it on Hong Kong Stock Exchange to achieve greater transparency and corporate governance.
Chan together with Emma Gao of Silver Heights, Chen Lizhong of Tiansai Vineyards, and Grace Fong of Kaanan Winery lifted the reputation of Chinese wine, but also proved what can be done and the promise that Chinese wine holds.
Wang Fang of Kanaan Winery
Wang Fang, founder and owner of Kanaan Winery, is another powerhouse in China’s wine scene. Better known as ‘Crazy Fang’ for her bold ideas and innovations, Wang who returned to Ningxia in 2011 after spending 10 years in Germany, and decided to follow in her father Wang Fengyu’s footsteps of making wine, a pioneer viticulturist in Ningxia particularly on soil study and owner of Helan Qingxue.
With her affinity to Germany and her love for Riesling, she was the first person in China to plant Riesling. However, she is best known for her Cabernet and Merlot based blends. Her 2013 Pretty Pony, a Bordeaux blend, won a top international wine award.
Her wines are now exported overseas. In 2018, Kanaan Winery’s wines are sold for the first time in Dan Murphy’s in Australia.
Fongyee Walker MW
Fongyee Walker MW became the first master of wine based in China in 2016, joining a prestigious club that has only a little more than 380 members around the globe.
Her talent in wine came to the fore when she led the Cambridge University Blind Tasting team to victory over Oxford in 2004. After moving to Beijing in 2007, Fongyee co-founded Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting, the only approved institute providing the WSET diploma course in Mainland China. Her company was also awarded the ‘Educator of the Year’ by the WSET in 2016.
Fongyee was nominated for WSET Outstanding Alumni Award 2018. Last year she also launched a TV series on Youku.com, China’s version of Youtube, titled “Wok N’ Wine” that attracted 3.2 million views for the series across all platforms in China. The series takes viewers on a journey through the diverse cuisines and remote regions of China, while at the same time explaining how to enjoy the varied flavours of local dishes with a delicious glass of wine in a simple way.