Sophie Liu is founder at Ouiwen Acadamy and partner of Vinforever wine importer. Master of Wine candidate, 4 level graduate WSET teacher, certified tutor at Bordeaux Wine School (CIVB) ， German Wine Acadamy teacher.
Sophie graduated from the College of Enology at Northwest A&F University,
her Master’s Degree was in Vinification and Viniculture.
One of the few cases of teachers and importers in China to have a training background in oenology, Sophie is also an established influencer with a base of around 10,000 followers.
Sophie, you have been involved in the world of wine for a long time, can you share with us how you got interested in wine first and then in Italian wine?
My university specialization is in oenology and in any case I have always liked wine. Since then, I have embarked on a road with no return! The unique native varieties of Italy and the style of Italian wine then grew my interest in this product.
You have a long experience in wine education, can you tell us how the interest of students has changed over the years? Do you think Italian wine is gaining notoriety?
I have been teaching in the wine field since 2009. At that time, not only ordinary consumers, but also many wine professional only knew French wines. Now more and more wine lovers are starting to know this product and to understand different types and styles of wine. I think the market is gradually developing. Italian wine already has a good follower base of wine lovers and professionals.
Do you think education is the most effective way to promote Italian wine in China? Apparently remembering Italian names is quite challenging, in your opinion what is the best way to approach consumers?
Education is a good means of communication and multi-level courses / activities can be organized to attract different groups with different knowledge. One way to simplify communication is to include some Italian wines (the most common) in the simpler wine courses so that participants can have some initial knowledge of it.
You also own an import company that focuses on boutique wines, why did you choose this market segment? Wouldn’t it be easier to sell more commercial wines?
Good wine is an indispensable product and I hope to be able to promote high quality wines at the right price for Chinese consumers. It is still necessary to expand the market further, but I am very confident.
We know that e-commerce in China is booming, but many Italian producers are discouraged from going online because they believe that only very cheap wines or super popular brands can actually sell online, do you agree?
It is difficult to answer this question. Many wineries have suffered damage due to online price exposure, but there are also success stories. When you decide to go online, it is essential that the winery defines its positioning on the market, that it is fully aware of what the trends and prices of competitors are, and finally that it strictly controls the products sold on the various platforms.
How important is brand awareness if you decide to sell wine in China? And what do you think are the best ways to achieve good brand exposure?
Brand awareness in wine business is very important. The winery can collaborate with traditional media, training institutes and influencers. This type of business does not require a particularly high budget and can quickly increase brand positioning.
There is a lot of rumors about KOL in China, some are apparently able to sell thousands of bottles of wine in no time. It’s true? Do you think influencers can really make a difference in selling Italian wines in China?
As far as I know, many KOLs in China don’t specialize in selling wines. They have a huge fan base and can sell any product category. Being so generic their customers prefer products at a reduced price. I believe that specialized wine influencers need to be chosen to reach the right audience.
Can you tell us what is the biggest strength and the worst mistake that Italian wineries make when they approach the Chinese market?
A reputation for Italian wine has finally being created as a high quality wine, please keep it up. However, sometimes Italian wine labels are unclear, confusing and this can lead consumers to spend a high price on low quality wines, undermining their buying confidence.
We know that French wine represents luxury in China. Chile and New Zealand should be easier and more accessible from a price point of view. What does a Chinese consumer expect from a bottle of Italian wine?
If the wine is an IGT or lower, regardless of the country or region, in the consumer’s eyes it is an average alcoholic drink, with no particular characteristics.
But the high quality Italian wines, such as Barolo, Amarone, Brunello di Montalcino, etc., are recognized as wines with a strong style and structure, this is what is expected.
If you could give an Italian wine producer 3 tips to improve its performance in the Chinese market, what would it be?
1. Increase the promotion of the winery itself.
2. Wineries / wines need Chinese translations that are easy to remember and spread.
3. The associations of the different wine areas should organize more roadshows and meetings in the main cities of the country.