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Changyu: Leader in China's chateau wine

Updated: 2012-06-21 08:28
By Zhao Ruixueand Wang Qian in Yantai, Shandong province ( China Daily)

 Changyu: Leader in China's chateau wine

Chateau Changyu AFIP Global in Miyun county, Beijing, is a popular place for film stars, celebrities and business leaders to hold parties and wine appreciation events. Ju Chuanjiang / China Daily

When China's first coastal chateau for wine was built in Shandong province 10 years ago, few people understood why Changyu Pioneer Wine Co spent such a great sum of money to build it.

Now, Chateau Changyu-Castel's achievements as a production site for premium wine have prompted other domestic vintners to build their own chateaus in China's major grape-growing areas, proving the company's foresight into the Chinese wine industry.

"Wine chateaus are the basic prerequisite for premium wine, so Changyu is building chateaus in different kinds of grape-growing areas to further sharpen its competitive edge in this sector," said Zhou Hongjiang, general manager of the company.

The management of the Yantai-based Changyu company were inspired to build chateaus across China after an analysis of the wine industry in France, where more than 80,000 wine chateaus play an important role in forging the country's reputation as global wine heavyweight.

Changyu built its first chateau in 2002 in cooperation with the Castel Group, headquartered in Bordeaux, France. Blessed with sea, sand and sun, the chateau is an integration of winemaking, sightseeing and recreation.

Encircling the chateau is a 135-hectare grape-growing region capable of producing enough grapes to make 3,000 tons of wine. Under the chateau is a 2,700 square meter cellar, where hundreds of oak barrels are lined up.

Stored for at least three years in oak barrels imported from France, the Cabernet Gernischt wines made at the chateau are colored deep ruby red and taste mellow and soft, giving them a lasting fragrance.

This wine, integrating Chinese and French manufacturing techniques, has drawn interest from hundreds of enterprises and organizations, making it the bestseller among the chateau's wine lineup.

Expansion of chateaus

"The success of Chateau Changyu-Castel has put Changyu on the track of developing chateau wine," said Li Jiming, Changyu's chief engineer, who has a doctorate in viniculture.

To date, Changyu has built six chateaus while expanding its grape farms. Three of the six chateaus are already operational, and the other three are expected to open in the second half of this year - Chateau Changyu Baron Balboa in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, Chateau Changyu Moser XV in Ningxia Hui autonomous region and Chateau Changyu Reina in Shaanxi province.

Li said wines made in the six chateaus have different target markets. Some will be destined for home dinner tables, while others will be served at national banquets, and the finer varieties can be collected as an investment.

These chateau wines are Changyu's most competitive products, boasting an annual average growth of 45 percent in yearly sales since 2008.

However, Li emphasized that not all the chateaus wines can be rated as premium right now. That explains why the company has chosen to team up with the world's most-prestigious chateaus.

In 2007, with the participation of vintners from France, the United States, Italy and Portugal, Changyu spent 500 million yuan ($78.67 million) to establish the castle of Chateau Changyu AFIP Global in Beijing's Miyun county.

The Gothic castle features classic European-style picturesque scenes. In addition to winemaking, it is also used for sightseeing, training and holding conferences.

The castle is favored by global wine industry elites, such as Robert Tinlot, now the honorary head of the castle and also the honorary president of the International Organization of Vine and Wine, known as OIV for short.

The current president of OIV, Yves Benard, visited the castle in 2009 and said the cabernet sauvignon made there has set an example for international-class chateau wine.

Now, wines made in the castle have been served at national banquets 29 times since 2009, and they are frequently selected as state gifts to foreign guests.

The company, in cooperation with Aurora Icewine Co Ltd, the biggest ice wine company in Canada, founded an ice wine chateau in Liaoning province in 2007.

Intl award winner

The ice wines produced here are substantially up to the standards regulated by Vintner's Quality Alliance, making Changyu the only Chinese company authorized to use the logo that identifies quality ice wine regions.

In May 2011, Changyu-made ice wine won a prize at the Decanter World Wine Awards, a first for an Asian maker of ice wine. "Benefiting from cooperation with prestigious global wine chateaus, Changyu has achieved more in the past 10 years. The three chateaus scheduled to open in the second half of this year will enable the company to produce more customized chateau wine," Li said.

To sharpen its competitiveness in the high-end wine market, Changyu has been seeking cooperation with prominent wineries overseas and has established an international chateau alliance in 2009, the first of its kind in the world.

Besides the chateaus Changyu operates in China, the alliance involves Changyu Kely Estate of New Zealand, Chateau Liversan and Chateau Philippe-le-Hardi in France as well as Chateau Changyu Pioneer Sicily in Italy, which are all big names in the industry.

Under the agreements, Changyu is the exclusive Chinese distributor of high-end wines produced by these overseas chateaus, and it permanently owns the wines' brands.

The agreements have proven to be win-win, expanding marketing channels to increase sales worldwide and promoting exchanges in winemaking techniques.

As early as 2006, Changyu teamed with Karikari Estate of New Zealand and create a new brand Changyu Kely Estate of New Zealand. The scenic chateau, home to a 100-acre vineyard and a coastal golf course, is targeting upper-class clientele and has a limited supply of vintage wines, including its most popular: Changyu Kely Sauvignon Blanc Dry White Wine.

"The alliance of famed global brands will become a new engine for driving the company's growth, and it will play an important role in promoting Changyu's brand in the international luxury wine market," said Sun Jian, deputy general manager of the company.

"Changyu will spare no effort to develop the alliance and look for more cooperation with prominent chateaus to provide consumers various wines from 17 major winemaking centers worldwide," said Zhou.

Wine culture

What sets it apart from others is that the chateau of Changyu is not only a winery but also a resort that provides a blend of services associated with wine. Tourists can help pick the grapes, visit the wine cellar, taste premium wines and train in wine appreciation.

Currently, the company has three 4A-class wine-themed scenic spots in China - the Changyu Castel Chateau, the Chateau Changyu AFIP Global, and the Yantai-base Changyu Wine Culture Museum.

They have become popular tourist destinations for experiencing wine culture, wine culture promotion and convening high-end meetings, with more than 500,000 visitors annually, which play a viral role in promoting wine culture in China.

In the years to come, Changyu will build four more such places and establish wine culture centers across the country.

"Every chateau serves as a good window to the company's development and allows more people to learn about its time-honored winemaking culture," said Yu Bo, curator of the Changyu wine culture museum.

The Changyu-Castel Chateau provides tourists a place to pick grapes, create wine logos with their own photos and sample fine wines while enjoying its excellent natural views.

Many travel agencies offer tours of the Chateau Changyu AFIP Global. Orders for wine-themed trips to the chateau have been on the rise . It receives thousands of visitors every year, most of whom have taken to drinking the brand and are now loyal consumers of Changyu.

The European-style town was modeled after a French town near the Palace of Versailles and features the first wine-themed art center in China, a luxury restaurant and guestrooms. It has become a favorite place for a large number of film stars, celebrities and business leaders to hold parties and wine-appreciation activities. Guests even have the option of opening a private wine cellar here.

An annual ice wine festival was held at Changyu's ice wine chateau in Liaoning by the local government, which has vowed to make it a new local tourism brand.

You may contact the writers at zhaoruixue@chinadaily.com.cn and wangqian@chinadaily.com.cn

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