Yao Ming launches new wine

Updated: 2013-09-13 11:44

By Yu Wei in San Francisco (China Daily)

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 Yao Ming launches new wine

Former Houston Rockets basketball star and current California winery owner Yao Ming and Tom Hinde, president and director of winemaking at Yao Family Wines, clink glasses at the winery. Provided to China Daily

As China's growing middle class continues to appreciate wine, former Chinese NBA star and now Napa Valley winemaker Yao Ming is eyeing a full-court press on this newly emerging group of wine drinkers by launching a new tier of wines on the Chinese market this week.

The new wine - called Napa Crest - is the latest product of Yao Family Wines, the company Yao founded in 2011, debuting Yao Ming 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for 1,775 yuan ($290) and the Yao Ming 2009 Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon for 6,125 yuan.

Napa Crest will be sold at 535 yuan retail. Though cheaper than its predecessors, it is still a little expensive for most Chinese pocketbooks.

"We have established Yao Ming's Signature wines at a benchmark in all of our world markets, including China," said Tom Hinde, president and director of winemaking at Yao Family Wines. "So we are offering a new tier of wines from Napa Valley consistent with a growing portfolio."

Hinde says Napa Crest maintains the outstanding quality that Yao is committed to.

"We want to show our consumers how Cabernet Sauvignon works in a blend from our distinct vineyards. This is something world wine regions try to project - authenticity and delicious place-based wines," he said.

Hinde said the company was happy with how their wines are selling in China. Many restaurants in Shanghai - Yao's hometown - carry his wines. The label sells throughout the China wine market, including Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Macau.

California, which accounts for 90 percent of US wine exports, shipped 18 million liters of its many varietals to China last year. The state's wine shipments to the Chinese mainland have been on a decade-long upswing, starting from a modest $3.4 million in sales in 2002 to $74 million in 2012, according to the San Francisco-based Wine Institute.

Linsey Gallagher, international marketing director for the institute, said that China is now the fifth-largest market for California wine exports. For the first six months of 2013, California's wine exports to China totaled nearly $34 million, up 7 percent from the prior year.

"We are thrilled with the success of Yao Ming's California wines from the famous Napa Valley in the China market. And we are very excited for the launch of this new, more affordable tier of wines within their brand family," said Gallagher.

"The strengths of California wines are the diversity and quality, as well as great value. The Yao Ming wines present two excellent examples of that," she added.

Gallagher said the success of Yao Family Wines has helped build awareness for California wines in China overall. She believes the new Napa Crest brand, with a more attainable price point, will encourage more Chinese wine consumers to try wines from California.

"What Yao is doing is a classic approach for many quality wineries, creating a second, more approachable wine so that more people can enjoy his wines," said Barbara Insel, president of Napa Valley-based Stonebridge Research Group, a research firm for the wine industry.

Insel said many other famous winemakers had done the same - in France, Lafite has Carruades de Lafite as its more affordable wine and Margaux has Pavillon Rouge. "The very best grapes are kept for the first label and the next group of very fine grapes is reserved for the second label," she explained.

"Chinese wine consumers have had very few opportunities to taste and experience California's fine wines. As they do, I am convinced they will discover that these are fine, handcrafted wines, made with care of the finest wine grapes and they will come to admire and enjoy them," she said.

Insel noted that what California winemakers have to do now is give more consumers the opportunity to do that.

"That is why it is so wonderful that Yao Ming is making his wine here and making more California wines accessible to Chinese consumers," she added.


(China Daily USA 09/13/2013 page11)