Asia Options is always on the look out for Asia-active entrepreneurs and self-starters – and with the reopening of the Hamer Scholarship, we thought it was an opportune time to track down Holly Klintworth, a Hamer Scholarship China recipient, in Victoria’s wine heartland. With a glass of red in hand the Hamer alumnus and quintessential bon-vivant mulls over the choices she took that led her to China and the opportunities she made for herself along the way.
Why Chinese, why wine? Are they strange bedfellows?
It’s certainly no secret the Chinese thirst for wine exploded over the past decade. It is a fairly young market, particularly in terms of the average consumer’s appreciation for wine. Sales tell us there are an abundance of wine drinkers in China, but many don’t know how to choose what to drink. There is much to be done to communicate better with the growing Chinese wine market.
Western wine brands often promote to the Chinese consumer in a linear fashion and don’t pay enough attention to Chinese food culture. I’m interested in helping the younger generation of Chinese wine consumers mature and develop their confidence, knowledge and appreciation of wine. Even in Australia, the wine industry can feel daunting. I hope to change this, through my own wine venture Wanderlust Wines. In selling Australian wines to China, I plan to communicate differently. Using my language skills and cultural understanding, I will introduce wine in an approachable way: in a language the Chinese consumers not only understand, but can also relate to.
You received a Hamer Scholarship to Suzhou University in 2014 – did this visit change your understanding of China? How did the scholarship’s emphasis on regional connections help you engage your market?
My first visit to China was in 2008 on a gap year teaching English for 5 months. Re-visiting China only 6 years later, I witnessed how quickly China was developing. I saw profound changes in China due to modernisation and its evolving interactions with other countries. Indeed, with wine in Chinese people’s lives undoubtedly expanding, the cultural shifts extended to the wine industry too.
The Hamer scholarship encouraged me to follow my passion and engage with the Chinese wine industry on-ground. Meeting consumers, distributors and retailers, I was able to immerse myself in the Chinese wine market. I was not surprised to discover the culture around wine consumption was so totally different to Western countries. I got a sense of what it was like as a Chinese person to try to make sense of the wine world. Imagine looking at wine bottles with fancy names that you looked up on Baidu that don’t translate to your language at all. Imagine reading about tastes and fruits that are completely foreign to your taste buds, and pairing the wine with dishes that you have never tried before.
I feel like most of the global wine industry expects Chinese wine consumption to follow in its footsteps.
However, wine appreciation is an intimate, personal thing wherever you go in the world. The Chinese wine market is a world on its own and in order to understand the market, you have to understand the local culture, the needs of its consumers, and the taste preferences and information that appeals to them. Anyone who approaches the Chinese wine market in a cookie cutter fashion risks disengaging, or even marginalising the very consumers who want nothing more than to understand the wonderful world of wine.
Imagine you’re speaking to yourself at the start of your university degree, tossing up whether Chinese is a good decision. What one thing could you say that would disperse all doubt?
You can choose to tackle studying Chinese in one of two ways: Half-heartedly, as a box to tick, or a short-term goal, without a second glance backwards once you get those marks. Or you can wholeheartedly embrace the lifelong challenge. Studying Chinese is really a door to a new way of seeing the world, and the role you play within it.
Languages aren’t my forte so studying Chinese has been a life long challenge for me. However, I can’t imagine what it would be like to arrive in China and not have a friendly chat with the taxi driver or listen to an ayi chastise me for choosing fruit that wasn’t ripe yet. It’s these little moments that make you realise all your hard work was worthwhile. Being able to speak the language means being able to connect with those around you and see life through their eyes. It’s something I have not mastered to this day, but all good challenges keep you guessing, keep surprising you, and keep pushing you to try harder.
Just for something fun – what’s the hardest concept about wine to convey in Chinese? When will you know that the Chinese wine market is ‘mature’?
The hardest concept is how to describe wine to a Chinese consumer. Describing wine in English is difficult enough. There is romance and poetry when navigating the flavours and olfactory senses in wine. Words like “forest fruits, earthy, woody, chewy” can’t always be translated easily into Chinese. I once spent hours with a Chinese friend trying to pin down the meaning of ‘forest fruits’ and the different tastes of raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. For those in China who may never have tasted these fruits, using this vocabulary as wine descriptors become utterly useless. I think the key is to tap into Chinese tea appreciation. There is a real history and culture around tea appreciation which also revolves around romance, poetry, taste and smell. Often such parallels are overlooked in the Western approach to the Chinese wine industry.
The Hamer Scholarship is open to Victorian residents.
Latest posts by Holly Klintworth (see all)
- Hamer Scholarship China Recipient: Wining & Dining China - October 7, 2015