One of China’s leading wine retailers, Pudao Wines, has brought its innovative approach and expert connoisseurship to Hong Kong.
One of China’s leading wine retailers, Pudao Wines, has brought its innovative approach and expert connoisseurship to Hong Kong. In addition to its two user-friendly and entertaining stores in Beijing and Shanghai, Pudao Wines has just launched an online store specifically for the renowned Hong Kong wine market. China’s wine market is rapidly enlarging and online sales are proving a powerful driving force behind this expansion. Stylesight sat down with Marcus Ford, General Manager of Pudao Wines, for an in-depth and exclusive conversation about growing trends in the Chinese wine market, launching both online and brick-and-mortar retail stores and revolutionizing Shanghai’s fine dining scene.-Babette Radclyffe-Thomas
Stylesight: Can you tell me a bit about your background?
Marcus Ford: Well actually I was born in Hong Kong and spent my early years here before studying French and European literature at the University of Warwick. After spending my university holidays carrying boxes for UK wine merchant Oddbins and enjoying epic Sunday lunches at home with various wine experts tasting and learning about wine, I then worked at Harvey Nichols, working my way up from making coffees to becoming a restaurant manager. In 1999 I moved to Shanghai to work at M on the Bund where I was for exactly ten years. It was an amazing time, when we opened there was nothing on the Bund, only a few shells of historic buildings. We boasted the most amazing views but, as this was before the highway across Shanghai opened, everybody thought it was miles away. But three years on we were full every single night and then everyone wanted to open on the Bund. In 1999 the market was very dull, we were very pioneering, we put vintages on the menu and M on the Bund soon became the landing place for international wine producers to try out the Chinese market. You name it; we held the first tastings for any serious wine producer in China. Then in 2009 we launched Pudao Wines in Shanghai, in 2011 we opened our store in Beijing and now we are just about to launch our online store for Hong Kong.
SS: Can you tell me a bit about your retail stores in Beijing and Shanghai?
MF: Our stores are user-friendly and accessible: both stores have tasting machines, which allow costumers to try before you buy and figure out what you do and don’t like. Customers have store memberships and cards that they charge up with credit. Our stores have a huge range of wines; 400 to 500 different wines go through the machines every year.
SS: Who is your typical customer at your stores in Beijing and Shanghai?
MF: In Beijing our customer is typically 90% local Chinese and a bit older than our Shanghai customer so 30 – 50 years old. In Shanghai it is probably 60% local Chinese and 40% international. We have lots of female consumers at both of our stores, and this is due to several reasons. One is that there is a strong culture of drinking alcohol in China, and the baijiu (rice wine) and cigarettes culture is very male dominated. Secondly our approach is unpretentious, we try to make wine more approachable.
SS: What wines are available online? Why did you decide to launch an online retail store specifically for Hong Kong?
MF: At the moment we have wine from 11 countries, 63 producers and approximately 600 different wines. We have a broad range: the bottles range from $69HKD ($8.9 USD) up to $7,000HKD ($902USD). Our stores are accessible and user-friendly and our portfolio lends itself to that. The online environment for wine is great – of course you can’t touch or taste it, but we use lots of geographical imagery to enrich the content. If customers have time they can read more, read reviews and for an engaging customer the Internet is fantastic. We host regular events and tastings in Hong Kong, approximately one event every week and over 200 events across four cities in China.
SS: Do you have any plans to open a bricks-and-mortar retail store in Hong Kong?
MF: We would absolutely love to in the future. Soon we will be opening a new store in Guangzhou.
SS: Have you noticed any key developments or growing trends recently in the Chinese wine market?
MF: The UK in the 1970s imported everything and people drank the same wines as their parents, but then it changed and I believe that this trend is not too dissimilar to what is happening now in China. This also happened in Italy in the 1960s, the first Italian bottled wine only appeared in the 1950s, but now there is a thriving wine culture. I think it is a fascinating time now for China’s wine culture. The fine wine market here is hyper-developed and there is a distinct collector culture. Often these collectors have cellars full of the rarest and finest Bordeaux, and then they have a sort of eureka moment when they start to drink the wines and have fun enjoying their wine. The wine market in China is very young, for example in 1999 when I was buying wine for M on the Bund there were five viable importers that we could buy wine from and now there are 4,000. In Hong Kong there are a lot of companies doing fine wine and there are the supermarkets. Then there is the middle market, which I think is really interesting. I don’t believe there is an Asian palette; it is extremely diverse. According to pure consumption, there is a split between red and white wine: 99% of wine consumption on the Mainland is red wine. As I said the wine market is so young I think it will be very interesting to watch as more and more people consume wine for pleasure.
House 102, Ferguson Lane, No. 376 Wu Kang Road, Xuhui District, Shanghai / 86 (0)21 6090 7075
Unit F1-01, Tower AB, The Office Park, No.10 Jintong West Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing / 86 (0)10 8590 3020
Images courtesy of Pudao Wines