Business English Podcast 7: The wine industry

by Lynch A.K.A 'The Regulator' on August 5, 2012

Original BBC podcast
Decline of French wine
Podcast on Argentinian wine
Argentiniean wine producer from the podcast
Article on Chinese victory

Today’s business English audio is based on Peter Day’s world of Business and a podcast called ‘The new world of wine. It is about new wine producing countries so if you don’t know the word ‘vine’ – vid – you should take note – it is the plant which produces grapes and therefore the plant that produces the wine. But before we talk about vines or wines, I would like to tell you the type of story that neither Chinese business nor the Chinese government wants you to hear. But it’s a true story, so I’ll tell you.

Last summer I was doing some work in the house and I went to buy two items (articulos) from the local Chinese shop: a brush to clean the toilet and a hammer (martillo) to fix a bed. As soon as I put the brush in the toilet and started cleaning it broke into two parts, and when I tried to use the hammer the head fell off. While I understand that a store where everything costs two euros is not a probable source of quality goods, it wasn’t a good moment for my relationship with Chinese manufacturing and only increase my perception that China is cheap – but low quality.

This perception is shared by many, but it maybe about to change. Not only are new brands and goods emerging from China that are of equal quality to western ones, but there are a host of new companies entering the luxury goods market. In fact, you may be surprised to know that the recent winner of the world’s most prestigious wine of the year award was… a Chinese wine. And not a rice wine or any other oriental specialisation – but a traditional grape wine competing against the best French ones. Its name – the Jia Bei Lan 2009 Cabernet blend.

The test that decides the competition was carried out by a jury of five internationally recognised experts, and the great thing is that it’s a blind test. In other words, they don’t know where the wine is from, that they’re drinking.

Interestingly, the Chinese have a long tradition of making wine, though it is perhaps a little sweet for the western palette as it is often made from plums. In recent years, however, the Chinese have imported French grapes and expertise and decided that anything the French can do – they can do better. And they are now making some of the finest wines in the world.
The Chinese aren’t just making it, though, the market for imported wine in China is growing exponentially. Two years ago the Chinese imported 120 million cases of wine, last year 220 million and in five years it is estimated the figure will be 500 million.

China isn’t the only country upsetting the market dominance of the French, Argentina is not only recognised now as one of the world’s quality producers but also one of the biggest. It is the fifth largest producer of wine in the world and no company represents this better than Catena wines.

The story of Catena is the story of one businessman’s passion and drive. After doing a sabbatical at Berkeley university in 1985, the young Argentinian heir (heredero) to the Catena vineyard in Mendoza, was inspired by the Californians’ determination to match the French winemakers for quality (it seems we all like to bash the French!). He went back to Argentina determined to make his vineyard world famous and produce some of the best wine in the world.

For ten years he experimented, perfected, nurtured and tended his vines… eventually realising that growing them at high altitude would give his vines an advantage over the French. Catena is now a world class brand is the wine industry.

Over the next few years the story of Catena and Jia Bei Lan is likely to be repeated. Although wine is a luxury item we associate locations such as France and Italy, the vine is a strong plant which can grow in many areas. Therefore, although 60 million French would disagree, it is possible to create fine wine anywhere and they may have to accept that their market dominance will soon be over.

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