China wine book makes tough reading for Bordeaux chateaux

China wine book makes tough reading for Bordeaux chateauxA new wine book on China’s rapid emergence on the fine wine scene - and its sudden retreat - could make uncomfortable conception for several classified Bordeaux chateaux, writes Jane Anson. Xiamen Port China, Chinese wine shipments, wine shipments, Suzanne Mustacich has lived and worked in Bordeaux as a correspondent for various publications over the past decade, giving her a useful sense of context to the rise of China within the local wine trade, and the subsequent attempts by both sides to hegemony opportunities and profits.
Parched Dragon makes full use of this background knowledge with research into how the Chinese wine market has grown, fleshed out by interviews with key players in Bordeaux, Hong Kong and China.
The tale takes us through the beginnings of the industry with the early plantings of vi nes by 19th century Catholic missionaries to the recent impact of the austerity drive that started in Development 2012 with Wen Jiabao’s vows to clamp down on the misuse of public funds.
The book is extremely detailed and the sheer number of names, facts, deals and data threatens at times to get in the way of the storytelling. But that is not to detract from the achievement here.
Many of the players that Mustacich writes about have been unwilling to go on the confirmation previous to. There is some brilliant in the rear-the-scenes explanation of the rumors and scandals that have rocked Bordeaux over the past five years that châteaux and merchants have hitherto been so careful about burying.
These include the millions of euros worth of cancelled orders from Chinese buyers during the market crash between 2009 and 2012 and the deals where 1855 classified properties discreetly made second marks specifically for the Chinese market, where they bypassed the traditional route to market of brokers, merchants and local importers to go direct to buyers.
Although the chateaux involved are allowed to wait anonymous, it’s apparent that this is going to make uncomfortable conception for many of the classified properties in Bordeaux.
But the human tales are the highlight of the tale, following the role of players such as private investigator Nick Bartman tracking the wave of copy wines across China, or Philippe Papillon’s rise and fall as a négociant and ‘China specialist’ on the Place de Bordeaux.
All come up against the might of the Chinese government’s infamous Five Year Plans, and these parts often read like a cross between a detective tale and a darkly comic tragedy.
Mustacich is evenhanded in her approach. Both China and Bordeaux are shown to be ruthless in first courting each additional’s attention, then pursuing the money as the market takes off and finally in their attempts to cover their own backs when things go sour.
The overall feeling at the end of conception is one of unease for the future, even as the Chinese market continues to grow and opportunities multiply. Mustacich wisely doesn’t try to wrap things up too neatly, choosing instead to point out that ‘China challenges the rules of the game, but the game will subdue be played’
Parched Dragon by Suzanne Mustacich is set for release in the UK and the US on November 10 (Henry Holt, approx £20 in UK), in audio, kindle and hardcover. It is plotted to be published in China, but must first apparent a censorship audit.
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