Asia as a continent holds a lot of mystery and for a winemaker in the provincial vineyards of Chile it can seem more than a world away. This year’s Annual Wines of Chile Awards (AWOCA) Seminar offered a unique insight into the captivating and unfamiliar world of Asian wine consumption to help those in the national industry gain an understanding of this diverse region.
The tenth anniversary of the prestigious nationwide awards was dedicated to promoting the links between Chile and one of its fastest growing consumer markets. A panel of expert judges was invited from the Far East to judge the wines and shed some light on this distinctive market.
With a short presentation by each judge followed by a question and answer section, the seminar focused on opportunities within the on trade and market trends. One clear message was the importance of educating the Asian consumer in Chilean wine.
Judge and wine educator Fong Yee Walker explained in her presentation: “What is important is a greater demand for knowledge,” she said. “Asia likes education. The demand for people to learn how to use this western drink is very high.” Fong Yee also emphasized the value of investing time in educating the under 25 age group who will mature into loyal customers.
Meanwhile Korean sommelier Young Jin You suggested Chile organize their own sommelier competitions in Korea to promote their wines and increase wine knowledge in the on-trade industry, following the example of France, Italy and Germany who have organised similar competitions there.
Another key message was the impact of branding and marketing. As the country begins to focus more on selling its premium wines, the judges commented on the importance of communicating this message to the world. There were some positive comments on the emergence of high quality wines in the market that are already starting to have an impact on its image, especially in countries like Korea and Japan.
“The image of Chilean wine in Japan is changing from inexpensive and quality matching the price, to quality not only matching the price but providing quality much better than what you are paying for,” said Master Sommelier and Chairman of the Japanese Sommelier Association Masaharu Oka.
The judges all stressed how Asian consumers are happy to spend top dollar on icon wines so long as the marketing and image warrants the price. Almost half of wine purchases in Asia are for gifts, so getting the correct labeling, wording, bottle and image is one of the most important elements of the sale.
Hong Kong food and wine celebrity Walter Kei highlighted how building Chile’s image as a country is also vital to its success being seen as a high quality producer: “To share Chilean wine, you have to share experience,” he said. “If you can sell the whole package, people will think Chile is not cheap, but that Chile is a lifestyle.”
The week of judging which culminated in the seminar was also an opportunity for these influential wine professionals to learn more about Chilean wine and so act as ambassadors for Chilean wine in Asia.
While the clear favorite wine of the judges during their time in Chile was the cool climate Syrah, numerous comments were made about the high quality Riesling, Pinot Noir, Carmenere and Carignan. The judges also positively encouraged more experimentation into different varieties. “What’s really amazing is the yet untapped potential,” added Fong Yee. “There’s a really good future and we need more crazy winemakers here. There’s so much undiscovered and I wish they would plant more grape varieties.”
Hong Kong wine expert and winemaker Tersina Shieh also indorsed innovation and risk taking in the wine industry: “Be a crazy winemaker! That is what we want you to be. To make a statement in the world.”
One clear statement made during the week is how Chile wants to be part of the future in Asia, and seminars like this are invaluable in helping the wine industry learn how to stake their claim in the world of wine.
By Amanda Barnes