Sunday, August 10, 2008

China and wine

Lionel: The ongoing Beijing Olympics should if anything re-enforce China’s status as a superpower in the world. Their nearest Asian rivals will probably Japan or maybe South Korea.

But away from sports, China lags far behind Japan in one area. Wine. No, not buying power or increasing choice from around the world nor growing sophistication in the appreciation of wine or, for that matter, growth of domestic vineyards. No, it’s not all those aspects but another in which Japan not only trounces China as the undisputed leader in Asia. I am referring to the number of qualified wine service professionals or sommeliers.

China may have many world-class athletes but, for the moment, it does not have many qualified sommeliers of international standard. Presently, a handful of foreigners, including overseas Chinese, dominate wine service, particularly in Shanghai. Things will change though. And because this is China, they will change very quickly, probably spurred on by the games itself.

Within the next few years, you will see several handfuls of confident, well-informed and articulate Chinese sommeliers. Actually, the talent is already there although this ready pool is probably over-qualified. There are, for example, more than 200 qualified oenologists in China who may not, however, regard being a sommelier as being the trade for which they were originally trained. Given that there are fewer winemaking jobs than the supply of trained oenologists can possibly fill, some may ultimately filter into the food & beverage and hospitality industries. We hope!

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