In 2004 Dutch serial entrepreneur Fons Aaldering bought a 24-hectare estate in Devon Valley, Stellenbosch (South Africa); eleven years later, Aaldering Vineyards & Wines has made a breakthrough in China. “Our wines have secured a spot in a brand-savvy Chinese market that, until recently, only favoured overpriced Bordeaux.”
Aaldering Vineyards & Wines’ website’s ‘accolades’ section mentions several gold and silver medals and awards from Africa, Europe and even Japan and China. The Aaldering wines – production 2014: 120.000 bottles of white, red and pink in various varieties – are a huge success and now are exported to 26 countries. China is probably the toughest export market that the wine brand is conquering, says Janine Smink, Global Marketing & Sales Manager. “China is also one of the most interesting markets volume-wise. In 2014, we sold 25,000 bottles in China.”
40 million wine consumers
Aaldering is a new brand for China’s 40 million wine consumers, she explains. “A new and different name to wine buyers that until recently appreciated only the likes of Latour, Margaux and other top Bordeaux wines. China’s middle and upper classes were used to pay hundreds euros for a bottle of these top wines, mostly as gifts to business partners and government officials. Things changed when the Chinese government introduced strict anti-bribery rules two years ago. Now the focus has shifted from super-expensive to affordable top quality wine, like Aaldering.”
Janine explains that the ‘big leap’ to export to China was taken when owners and chefs of a great number of exclusive Chinese restaurants in The Netherlands offered immensely positive feedback on the brand and the label, the elegant shape of the bottle and the quality of the wines. The company made two important decisions for its market entry in China: opening a sales office in Xiamen and employing Johnna Zeng, a Chinese sales rep that knows about wine.
Wine fair, partnership
Janine: “First, we presented Aaldering on a wine fair in Hong Kong, as a tiny producer from South Africa, among hundreds of French and Italian competitors. We also tasted wines with numerous wine importers and retailers, hotel F&B managers and restaurant chefs. We finally negotiated a partnership with an importer, a process that took great effort and many meetings and multiple visits in over a year. Meeting up, tasting wine, discussing the product and the business, it took every minute of our time, with lengthy negotiations.”
With the help of the new partner, the first two containers of wine from South Africa found their way to business hotels, restaurants and wine retailers in the Guangzhou region. Janine Smink insists that in China, wine is sold bottle by bottle. “Building a wine brand in China requires a focus on business hotels, top restaurants and established wine retailers. Chinese consumers increasingly buy wine online. We are present on Weibo to get connected with the Chinese wine consumer. Selling wines from South Africa requires great efforts in wine education. We will therefore start a series of wine videos with chefs and wine journalists on Youku, China’s YouTube channel. In the meantime, we need to rely on word of mouth, on the buzz.”
Hilton Hotels China deal
Johnna Zeng knows how to create this buzz, as she recently closed a deal with Hilton Hotels in China, after arranging as Aaldering tasting session with the wine team of the Shijiazhuang Hilton hotel. “They were impressed by the premium quality and elegant bottle style of our Pinotage wines, included Lady M, Pinotage and Pinotage Blanc de Noir, which they selected as a special ‘gift’ on the current wine list, to catch the attention of their customers. Now our wines will be introduced to more Hilton Hotels in China as their hotel managers are always looking at each other’s portfolio’s for special wine discoveries.”
Soon Aaldering is receiving its Chinese business partners for their first visit to South Africa. “They will stay in our luxury lodges in the middle of the vineyards and we are positive they will embrace the impressive nature, kindest people, and in this matter especially the excellent wines that South Africa has to offer”, says Janine, who stresses that Aaldering is looking for new partners that can help sell and distribute its wines in other regions in China, like Shanghai and Beijing.