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Q&A: Dr Laura Catena

In late September, Catena Zapata held a special tasting of five of its flagship wines, which had all received 100-points by different wine critics, at the Great Wall of China. They invited over 100 guests, including importers, clients, and media from Asian countries and Argentina and dbHK was glad to be part of the event. At the event, we spoke with Dr. Laura Catena, managing director and a fourth generation member of the family about her sales strategy in the Chinese market.

1. What drives you to stage such special tasting at the Great Wall?

The historic and pioneering symbolism of the Great Wall attracted us. Catena Zapata, founded in 1902 by my Italian great grandfather Nicola Catena, is the oldest family winery in Argentina still in family hands, yet we are also known for our pioneering work with Malbec and high altitude viticulture. Malbec, the varietal that our family is known for was born in France 2,000 years ago; where the Great Wall of China, one of the great wonders of the world, was also built about 2,000 years ago. On personal level, I came to the Great Wall for the first time in 2005 and ever since then I’ve dreamed of doing a tasting in such a beautiful and historic place.

2. What do you think is the perception of Chinese to Argentine wine ? Have you observed any changes in market trends in recent years?

Argentine wine is not as well known in China as French wine or Chilean wine. However when Chinese drinkers taste our wines they fall in love. Argentine wine tends to have power combined with soft tannins due to the long hang-time and high altitude climate. Chinese drinkers love this combination of power and smoothness. Also, Malbec is very high in umami naturally – it has natural vanillin and umami flavours – and that is why it pairs so well with barbecued meats and vegetables and with high umami content foods such as most Asian foods. I think it’s a matter of time before Chinese drinkers fully embrace Argentine wine. Our wine sales have been growing steadily in China and Asia as a whole for the last five years.

Wine Intelligence, the UK consultancy, reported in their China Landscapes Report June 2019 that Catena is ranked in the top 25 wine brands for ‘brand awareness’ in China. The three top ranking brands are Great Wall, Changyu and Lafite. It is quite positive for Catena to be 23rd most ‘awareness’ by Chinese consumers in a market with thousands of other wine brands.

3. After joining La Place de Bordeaux a year ago, have you seen any positive impact particularly in China?

Before we joined La Place we were selling more of the Nicolas Catena Zapata and Adrianna Mundus Bacillus Terrae wines in Europe than in Asia. After we joined La Place, our sales in China and Asia as a whole increased. So yes, I do think that the large distribution network of the négociants in China will help spread the word about our winery and about Argentine wine as collectible. The great honour of receiving so many 100-point ratings in the last two years has also made a difference. Now, We export 80% of our production to China.

4. Is there other sales and distribution strategy in the Chinese market that you think works well?

We work with a group of importers, who each specialise in a part of the market, such as Obelisco and East Meets West, in addition to the négociants. Brands are exclusive to each importer. We think this strategy helps each importer focus on specific wines and know every detail about them and how to sell them.

5. Which is the best-selling label in China right now and why?

The best-selling wine from Argentina in China is without a doubt the Catena Zapata Estiba Reservada, which is the icon wine from our family winery.

The first vintage of this Bordeaux blend, which is mainly a Cabernet Sauvignon, was the 1990. It was released when Nicolas Catena Zapata, after many years of exploring different terroirs, considered that he could present a world-class wine.

This wine, which is sourced from a small parcel at our ‘La Pirámide’ Vineyard in Agrelo, quickly became iconic in Argentina and South America; people who travelled from China to our country discover it and they automatically adopted it because they find it so similar to the great wines from Bordeaux.

Today, together with Penfolds Grange, it’s the best-selling wine from the southern hemisphere within its price range.

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