Opening up to the world means being brave enough to live this life choice: Alessio Fortunato is one of the dreamers who packed his suitcase to start the trip to new horizons and get to know different countries and cultures.
By matching this life journey to its passion for wine and after enrolling a master degree of “Science in viticulture and oenology” (Vinifera Euromaster) , Alessio turned his exploration of China into a work opportunity to commit to.
In fact, since his arrival in China his career set-off, involving teaching Wine Business in the first Chinese Wine University, consultancy for public bodies, chambers of commerce, and distributors. Nowadays Alessio Fortunato is the branch manager of one of the most important wine importers of China and his goal is to promote and raise awareness about Italian wines in China.
For this reason Cincinnato, together with Alessio, is getting to know China, perception and consumption of wine in the country.
Although many businesses would love to approach Chinese market, they do not know much about it. What would you suggest to wineries which would love to export their products there? Would you approach the market or Chinese culture first?
“Market and the culture of the country are linked, hence wineries should have insight about both aspects in order to approach the Chinese market in an effective way. I know about many wineries which did not succeed to cooperate with importers in China, due to poor knowledge of both market and culture”.
The only way to improve the knowledge of both is to travel to China or live there.
You have been working and living in China for long. How has changed the approach of Chinese consumers to Italian wine?
“In the first few months of 2013, I had just moved to China and I found out shockingly that in many circles Italian wines were deemed not to be of a good quality. More specifically, many Chinese professionals of wine thought Italian wines were too acidic and tannic, hence not suitable to the Chinese consumers tastes. I have found out after a long research that Chinese consumers around the country were not really familiar with Italian wines. Many Chinese wine professionals at that time were favouring wineries from other countries, because they had an interest and a business relationship with them.
“Made in Italy” was mainly associated to design, fashion and luxury, while wine was not in part of the Italian imagination, despite the huge variety of grapes harvested and wine produced in Italy.
Since 2013, lot of work has been done to position and promote Italian wine in China and we have managed to fill that gap. I still remember the first tasting lesson I gave to 120 students in Xi’an (2013). Those students were not aware or heard of Italian wine before. Chinese consumers are always attracted to strong brands; however, in the many tastings I conducted Italian wines have been appealing to Chinese. Robust, sugary wines, high in percent per volume were preferred. Nowadays, these wines are not anymore in the markets of top-tier cities. Indeed, there is an increasing demand for market niches such as natural wines and high quality sparkling wines”.
Do you think social media are considered work tools in China as well?
“Yes, there was a time in which I decided to reduce the use of social media due to the amount of messages I was receiving from companies. The main social media are Wechat, Weibo, QQ, Douban, Douyin. Each of those social media works differently and they are incredibly useful platforms, where you enter a complete ecosystem, rich and full of users. There are about 1.202 billion users in WeChat, 619 million of those are daily ones. Using Wechat enables people to chat and send/receive money, pay utilities, buy airline tickets, book hotels etc … There are KOL (Key Opinion Leaders) with millions of followers. Their mini-video advertising products, discloses a high potential for a brand to sell those products”.
Can you live off your passions even far from home? Which is your favourite way to relax while working?
“China is always so hectic – business never sleeps. I can recall how client distributors contact you at 11pm to know whether there would still be wine left the following day. Well, so I must say that during that experience I have valued time as a precious asset, so much that I am always trying to live my free time to the fullest, and I look for curious things or I do creative activities such as painting or I do enjoy sports like badminton”.
A detailed story of great interest, as one could expect. China is far geographically and culturally, but it is a great market for wine producers, so it is fundamental to rely on the right persons and cultural mediators.
Thanks again to Alessio to have brought us a bit closer to China. Next month another interesting wine article. See you soon!