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2 mars 2007 5 02 /03 /mars /2007 10:39

Nous avons reçu il y a peu de temps John Miller, correspondant du Wall Street Journal en Europe.
Voici l'article qui vient de paraître dans le Wall Street Journal :

 

On Other Fronts - Dispatch: French vintners woo nouveau riche in , with a neophyte's help.

 

By John W. Miller - 28 February 2007

 

The Wall Street Journal Europe

 

(Copyright (c) 2007, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)

 

 

Saint-Emilion, - LAST YEAR, Yan Xin tasted wine for the first time in her life - not any wine, but a $700 bottle of 2005 Cheval Blanc from this fabled village near Bordeaux .

 

 

"It was fruity and the alcohol wasn't too strong," says the 26-year-old from the Chinese coastal province of Jiangsu .

The experience steered the newly minted business-school graduate away from her parents' dream of a career in pharmaceuticals and toward an idea whose time, she hopes, has come: Her homeland is ready to savor the finer things in life, one of those things being French wine.

"Wine is an art," she says. "Like painting or music."

That attitude has made Ms. Yan, who says she is Saint-Emilion's lone Chinese resident, a hot commodity among the creme de la creme of French vintners eager to groom an Asian ambassador worthy of their silky reds and fruity whites.

Late last year, after weighing nine job offers, Ms. Yan settled on a position with Chateau Valandraud, which was founded in the 1990s by Jean-Luc Thunevin, a former bank teller. Renowned critic Robert Parker considers his wines to be among the world's best reds.

Mr. Thunevin hopes Ms. Yan can help him crack the code of marketing wine that has world-class taste - but not the backing of a famous name - to the nouveaux riches of Asia 's hottest economy. He needs the help: Last year, he sold just 744 bottles on the mainland. "She speaks three languages, and her parents are doctors, so she knows people in the upper classes," he says.

's fledgling wine market poses numerous obstacles. Without well-schooled palates, Chinese consumers are known for favoring brand cachet over taste. The droll among Saint-Emilion's vintners like to tell the story of one Chinese businessman who orders the occasional bottle of 1982 Chateau Lafitte - valued at some $2,000 - only to mix it with Coca-Cola. Ms. Yan allows: "People I know still put ice and juice in their wine."

European trade officials say fine wine is one of the few agricultural products in which Europe enjoys a clear advantage over Asia . "We need to exploit niche products like cheese and wine," says European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson.
Since 2001, Chinese overall wine imports have grown to $133 million a year from $32 million. Wine experts think 's market for imports could one day match 's, valued at more than $2 billion a year.
Elite vintners from Saint-Emilion, Medoc and other prestigious regions in have the most potential in the high end of 's wine market, experts say. The market for table wine belongs to , and .

The French education of Ms. Yan began in 2004 when she decided to pursue a master's degree in business administration in Rennes, the capital of Brittany . She had hoped to parlay an internship that came with the program into a spot in one of 's big pharmaceutical companies. Instead, she received an intriguing offer.

Last spring, a cousin who imports wine to helped her land a six-month internship at a 130-year-old chateau called Maison Riviere.
When owner Philippe Riviere picked her up at the Saint-Emilion train station, she introduced herself as "Jessica," a name she initially thought more in tune with Western culture. Her Chinese name pronounced in French sounds exactly like the word for (Chine, pronounced sheen).

Surrounded by romantic chateaux, "I felt like I was a princess in a movie," she says.

It didn't take long for Ms. Yan to catch the eye of Christophe Lebail, Riviere's export manager. The 39-year-old Mr. Lebail, an accomplished chef, spent hours preparing sumptuous meals for the novice, developing her palate for the wonders of foie gras and pungent Reblochon cheese.
They recently moved in together.

Mr. Lebail has also helped Ms. Yan discover that some Chinese stereotypes of the French simply aren't true. "In , people say the French are the world leaders in perfume because they don't take showers," she says.

She is puzzled, though, at how much the French seem to go on strike, and smoke. "In , if you strike, they just tell you to go home," she says. "And I thought that in a developed country like , people wouldn't smoke so much."

Mr. Lebail predicts Ms. Yan will be a perfect envoy for French wine in . "You need to be educated and sensual to sell wine," he says. "Wine is intrinsically feminine."

When Ms. Yan's internship with Riviere ended last November, she opted to work with Mr. Thunevin thanks to his reputation as a self-made man - which she likens to the rise of modern .

In 2004, Mr. Thunevin first tried to ride the wave by joining a venture that was to make wine in 's Hebei province. The experiment was a bust: Chinese workers didn't pick the right grapes, smog often covered the sun and adequate barrels were nowhere to be found.

Etablissements Thunevin produces 15 brands and 200,000 bottles, with annual sales of about $15 million. Its finest wine sells for as much as $650 a bottle.

Ms. Yan is now a familiar, if uncommon, sight among the wine bars and chateaux in Saint-Emilion. She walks among the cobblestones in high-heeled boots and wraps her slender frame in a fake fur coat. Fluent in Mandarin, French and English, she is also mastering the stilted argot of the sommelier.
"I used to like wines that were easy to drink," she says. "Now, I believe in a long finish and a complicated structure."

She still has a few things to learn, however. In her eagerness to innovate for her new employer, she betrayed her naivete one recent day. She asked a colleague whether the French wine world could take a lesson from Coca-Cola. Why not, she suggested, generically label all French wine as " Bordeaux ," even those made in Saint-Emilion? "You can still have different kinds, like Coke light and Coke lemon," she said.

"Xin, that's against the law," said colleague Cecile Montsec, patiently explaining 's strict labeling rules based on regional classifications.

Nonplussed, Ms. Yan turned her attention to translating Mr. Thunevin's blog postings into Chinese and sending email solicitations to Chinese distributors, restaurants and hotels. She's also preparing her own blog, "about what it's like to be the only Chinese person in Saint-Emilion."

Eventually, says Ms. Yan, the Chinese will warm to luxury wines. She is so confident of the market potential, she wants to be paid on commission.

In the meantime, she is still struggling to think of her new job at the vanguard of Old Europe's most famous export in local terms.

 

"Remind me, how many bottles do we manufacture a year?" Ms. Yan says to Ms. Montsec.

"We don't manufacture anything, Xin," replies Ms. Montsec. "We create luxury."

 

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