We caught up with Lenz Moser, chief winemaker at Chateau Changyu-Moser XV in Ningxia, to get the lowdown on how China is rebooting after the coronavirus crisis.
Is life slowly getting back to normal in China?
Life is gradually getting back to normal in China. Work was uninterrupted at the vineyard and winery as we didn’t have a single case of Covid 19 out of 5,000 employees. We’re still not fully back into the full swing of things though. We have a lot of wine waiting in warehouses and the pipe is full, as we are an on-trade focused brand. Our off-trade sales are strong but it’s not enough to deplete our stocks. We’re entering a new normal where face masks, social distancing and certain restrictions will be part of everyday life until we have a vaccine.
How has the crisis changed consumer habits in China?
Drinking patterns are changing in China – since the crisis started there has been a lot more home drinking; it’s a huge paradigm shift. The crisis has accelerated the off-trade in China, and the on-trade, aside from the top places, is struggling.
The second and third tier restaurants will be hit hard by the crisis in the coming months as they will be shunned in favour of home consumption. People want to feel safe, so will be staying in more and hosting private parties and barbecues with their friends where they don’t have to wear masks. If you have to social distance at a restaurant, what’s the point in going?
Changyu’s new icon wine, Purple Air Cabernet
How do you think the crisis will change the world?
Hopefully this is the biggest crises we will have to face in our lifetime, aside from climate change. The coronavirus crisis will better prepare us for climate change. This planet has a huge problem and Covid-19 is a precursor of it. The light bulbs are switching on and people are starting to realise the need for change. We will not go back to normal, it will be a new normal. The big question is who will finance the fight against global warming because the world is haemorrhaging money at the moment.
How should the wine trade adapt in the face of the crisis?
In the wine trade we’re selling good moods, it’s a positive product, so I think we’ll be okay if we keep selling optimism, which is more important than ever. A lot of people are suffering, but it’s important to remain positive. In order to get customers back into wine in the on-trade, restaurants will need to go into surprise and anticipate mode – surprising people and anticipating their reaction. When the lockdowns are lifted, restaurants will need people to know that they are open again. They need to re-open with a bang, creating some noise with bold actions.
Will the crisis change how people do business?
Yes. I think relationships will be even more important than ever. Trust is the new currency. When it comes to the wine trade, when we form even stronger bonds than in the past with our partners and fully trust each other then we’ll be on very safe ground. Without trust in this new reality doing business will be impossible.
What is the future for the wine trade post Covid-19?
The online sector is going to get really big and the way people buy wine will change. Online sales will become a much bigger part of people’s businesses as it’s incredibly quick, easy and convenient. People will have to innovate in a completely new way. Consumers want something new and sexy, which is why I think our white Cabernet has done so well as it’s something completely different.
What does the future hold for Chinese wine?
Local is going to be the new paradigm. Chinese wines will need to be typical of their region and something that you can’t find elsewhere in the world in order to succeed going forward. They need typicity or our exports are going to die – people want local or exceptional products, ideally both. China has no indigenous grapes so we have to work with terroir at the moment to stand out. I’m going to plant Grüner in China so I can offer consumers something different. I would have done it in May if I was allowed to travel – it will have to be next year now. I have the rootstocks from Austria ready to go.
Changyu’s popular white Cabernet
How has Changyu had to adapt during the crisis?
We’ve managed to keep both the vineyards and the operations side of the business going and have been gaining new distribution partners during the crisis, which is encouraging. We signed five new distribution deals in Canada, Indonesia, Italy, France and Switzerland in the last few weeks through talking to people on Zoom, so it’s business as usual as far as it can be, which is a very positive sign.
We have the advantage of having Moser on the label, a wine family that is known in Europe, which engenders trust with consumers and makes things a lot easier as they feel like they are on safe ground with our wines.
What is next for Changyu?
We’re an on-trade focused brand so we need to build sales in off-trade channels. Slurp and Ocado have sold quite a bit of our wine and have re-ordered, but we need to grow our off-trade presence and look for new importers with strong web-based sales channels, which will be key going forward. I hope the crisis changes how the wine industry does business because change is needed when it comes to management models and exports. Business outside of China could do with some fresh air.
Do you have any new releases in the pipeline?
Before the crisis hit we were just about to launch our new icon wine, Purple Air, in the UK. Bibendum has taken it on, so it will be on sale in the on-trade soon. The Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge is going to go big on it by the glass, and it will be on sale at The Ivy restaurants and Sexy Fish.
We only made 6,000 bottles of the debut 2016 vintage and it will cost around £150 at retail. It’s a trend-setting wine made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon that moves more towards fruit intensity rather than alcohol.
Do you have any personal projects on the go?
I’m planning to get back into Austrian winemaking. Having moved back to Austria recently, I couldn’t resist the chance to make white wine again. It doesn’t conflict with Changyu as I mainly make red in China. I’m back on a Grüner mission and am working with some close friends in Austria on a new Grüner project after taking five years off. It’s going to be a major global initiative. I don’t have time to do small things anymore. It has to be big from the beginning.