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China Daily Website

Rich pickings in learning white from red

Updated: 2012-08-04 10:27
By Li Xiang ( China Daily)

A grape-picking trip to a vineyard in Champagne two years ago that sparked an interest in French wines has led to a sparkling career for young Chinese student Wang Qiuyun.

The 29-year-old from Henan province gave up the offer of a masters program from an American university to study wine in Bordeaux, where she was trained as a sommelier - the expert in a restaurant who selects the wine to go with the chosen cuisine.

"Initially I struggled with the language and did not have much fun studying wine. But as I gradually honed my skills and started to be able to taste and tell the difference between wines, I became fascinated by the richness and diversity of a good wine," Wang said.

"It felt like I had discovered a whole new world."

Oenology, a word almost unheard of in China a decade ago, has become an increasingly popular major among young Chinese due to the growing increase in wine consumption throughout the country, driven by an expanding middle class, and a liking for Western tastes.

And, like Wang, many Chinese students are coming to France with a strong business sense, knowing that the booming wine market in China, is only likely to grow in future.

Industry experts have predicted that China is likely to out-drink the United States to become the world's thirstiest nation for wine within two decades.

It has already overtaken UK and Germany to become Bordeaux's largest export client.

Wang now works as an intern at Chateau Leoville Poyferre in the Medoc area where she helps maintain the chateau's official weibo, or Chinese micro blog, and translates the chateau's news releases into Chinese. She also helps with the reception of tourists and business people from China who have become regular visitors to the famous Bordeaux vineyards.

"The number of Chinese students going to France to study wine has grown at a rate of 30 percent annually over the past few years," said Ren Lianfang, manager at Strong Study, a Chinese education agency in Zhejiang province.

The interest in wine education in the Chinese mainland and in Hong Kong has grown substantially, with enrollment soaring nearly 200 percent year-on-year, according to the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, a UK-based wine education organization.

The thriving wine market in China has not only wooed Chinese students to France, but has also bolstered the education market as French universities and private organizations that offer oenology courses, and are struggling with a decline in domestic enrollment, look to the East.

"In France, we don't have too many French students coming to learn about wine. But in foreign countries, the situation is exactly the opposite," added Franck Chausse, director of Cafa Formation, a private wine school in Bordeaux.

"You have a lot of countries interested in wine education because the wine business is faring well there and people want to learn more about wines."

Chausse said that more than half of Cafa's students are Chinese. Five years ago, they only accounted for just 2 percent.

"Most Chinese students want to work in the wine trading business. Less than 10 percent would choose a sommelier career in restaurants or hotels," he says.

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