For someone from Australia accustomed to international wine shows, the Shanghai wine show in early June was a fascinating experience. Sadly most of those experiences were not pleasant.
Companies clustered around the entrance to Intex, the international exhibition centre in Shanghai, employed attractive young women in mini skirts to market their wine. Most winemakers I spoke with talked of the inverse relationship of the skirts and the wine. The shorter the skirts, the worse the wine. Some of the skirts were very revealing.
Some companies presented their wine in the most appalling way, offering white wine in paper cups at room temperature. This was an insult to the wine and the customer. White wine needs to be chilled to appreciate the flavour, especially in Shanghai’s humid summer heat. And to offer wine to someone who knows about wine in a tiny cardboard cup the size of a thimble is both stingy and silly. It is simply not possible to appreciate the wine in that sort of container.
Elsewhere, some companies displayed scores of bottles of wine but declined to make them available for tasting. What kind of wine tasting event refuses to let people taste wine? Yet that was the case at the Shanghai international wine show. It made the companies offering the wine seem cheap and unprofessional.
The approach of Chinese companies — and all of the offenders were Chinese companies — was in stark contrast to the professionalism of the German, Italian, Australian, American and New Zealand wine makers marketing their wines.
The final afternoon of the final day was like a war zone. Andrew Mitchell, winemaker for the iconic Australian wine company Mitchell Wines, bravely tried to let me taste test his wines as contract workers pulled down stalls hours before the wine show was supposed to finish. It was bedlam. The sound of hammering and the ripping of partitions drowned out Andrew’s attempts to describe his wines.
Meanwhile, homeless men shuffled around the exhibition hall stealing whatever wine they could get their hands on. Security guards stood at both entrances but a huge number of people who had nothing to do with wine entered the exhibition building. People tried to sell me watches and a range of fake jewellery and handbags.
Worst experience of all was the number of drunken Chinese businessmen who demanded bottles of wines from exhibitors. “You give me wine,” they shouted, as the winemakers tried to protect their wares. Andrew Mitchell stoutly defended his bottles, trying to demonstrate the quality of his wine, at the same time repelling repulsive businessmen intent on stealing or appropriating as much wine as they could carry.
One old gentleman, dressed in rags and missing all of his top front teeth, weaved around the various exhibition stands stuffing whatever he could find into a large sack. Given the shabby way he was dressed, how was it possible that the security guards believed he was an appropriate person to allow into Intex?
In all it was a terrible experience. All of the winemakers I spoke to were appalled at the behaviour of some of the people at the show, and astounded at the rampant greediness of many of the audience. They seemed there not to taste and learn about wine, but to get as many gifts as possible while getting drunk. “If this is how wine appreciation is done in China, I do not plan to come back,” one Australian wine marketer told me. “This is disgusting. These people seem to know little about wine and appear unwilling to learn. They just came to get drunk.”
Another marketer from New Zealand and a winemaker from America, who preferred not to be named, said it was their worst experience of a wine tasting event they had encountered.
Mac Forbes, an Australian who makes wine in Austria, was more complimentary, noting that some members of the audience seemed keen to learn more about Australian wine. But he also conceded that some of the behaviour was less than appropriate.
I certainly will think twice before ever going to the Shanghai international wine show again at Intex. The performances I witnessed give China a bad reputation.
Future columns will talk about the high quality wine I did encounter. Almost all of that came from a range of new world vineyards. More about that in coming weeks.
* “Plenty to whine about at Shanghai’s Intex wine show” in China Daily, 11 June 2011, page 12. Find a link here.