Aim high is the catchcry for Rockcliffe winery as it drives into the new financial year targeting sales of more than $1 million in China.
The ambition is underpinned by three dynamic factors.
Rockcliffe has hired experienced Shanghai-based marketing consultant Jessica Zheng who has criss-crossed the globe for luxury brands L’Oréal, Rémy Martin and Levi’s.
Second, Rockcliffe invested heavily in perfecting a range of wines tailored to Chinese palates, replete with their own label, Peaceful Bay, and distinctive packaging to appeal to aspirant customers.
And, third, the appetite of the country is fed by the desires of a growing middle class, impatient for the good life. Despite talk of a trade war with the US, greater consumption seems to be the order of the day.
In late July, The Sydney Morning Heraldran yet another Wine Australia report that pointed to ever increasing sales of Australian wine to China.
The headline said, Wine exports smash records on the back of surging China demand, and the report indicated that the value of wine exports to China, including Hong Kong and Macau, had leapt 55 per cent to $1.12 billion for the year. The result confirmed China as Australia’s biggest wine market.
None of this surprises Rockcliffe winery owner and founder Dr Steve Hall who readily identified China for investment by attending major wine shows to support and promote his product.
Having sat through countless wine dinners, he is acutely aware of the size of the available market and also the slow and sometimes painful process to win a share of it.
“When we began marketing Peaceful Bay, the agent in China didn’t like some of the labels we had, even though they were made for China,” Dr Hall said.
So it was back to the drawing board, which produced four or five new labels, and a similar number awaiting final approval by the new marketing dynamo, Jessica Zheng.
And then there’s the laborious process of refining wines for particular palates. “They’re not really keen on riesling,” Dr Hall said. So Peaceful Bay concentrates on shiraz, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and merlot.
And the price has to be right. Chinese consumers want life’s luxuries but these have to be comparably priced. Consumers are gaining sophistication but demand for westernised wine snobbery remains small.
So sensitive is China to marketing, that Dr Steve Hall was anxious to work with high-powered Jessica Zheng whose expertise will guide Rockcliffe’s push for improved sales.
She lives in Shanghai, one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. Her marketing wit allied to Dr Hall’s determination to succeed has produced a formidable partnership.
But Dr Hall’s experiences in China have taught him that personal qualities will win the day.
“The Chinese like good quality wine at a good price,” he says, “but what is also important is whether they like you.”