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Long-term commitment has enabled Miguel Torres to build a thriving wine distribution business in China that now has annual revenue in excess of 20 million euros ($26 million).
In more than 10 years of operating in China, the boss of the Spanish wine giant has seen explosive growth. Torres now has branches throughout the country and his wines can be found on the menus of all major restaurants.
Early next year, Torres will make his final China tour as general manager of the company before handing over the reins to the next generation.
He will count the thriving China business as one of his most important legacies. The Spanish producer-distributor first entered the market almost 15 years ago, when many big wine companies were wary of making serious commitments in a country where wine-drinking culture was in its infancy.
Torres, whose family business has been in operation for four generations, has deep pockets, and a willingness to listen and learn. Over time the company has grown rapidly to reach its current status as the second-largest foreign importer, with annual turnover of $26 million.
"We saw China as the future," recalls Torres, a slightly built man with an endearingly gracious old-school manner. "But when we first started to import our wines, the market was very small and concentrated in Shanghai and Beijing.
"The way of doing business in China was very different and we had to adapt. I remember experimenting by saying we will treat our partners as friends, and do everything like that, and it turned out to be a successful way of doing it; people became much more receptive."
The company now has a China-made wine in its range thanks to a partnership formed with the local Grace Vineyard. The two parties are well known to each other; Torres distributes Grace wines but the two had never collaborated on producing a wine.
"It is a good wine," Torres says. "There was nothing similar in China. There are many chardonnays and many sauvignon blancs but nothing like this, made from the muscat grape.
"I think Grace makes the best wine in China. It sells out all the time so we figured we should work with them more. I asked my daughter to go and look at the winery and after that we decided we would make a white wine with them: Symphony. I hope there will be more co-operation.
"Like us, Grace Vineyard is a family-owned company, and they think the same way we do."
Family protocol demanded that Torres retired this year at the age of 70 as general manager, although he will retain the title of president.
There is no doubt that China will continue to feature prominently in company plans. While other markets are flat, or growing slowly, China wine distributors are still recording phenomenal growth of 20 percent or more a year. Recent figures from the French-based wine body Vinexpo put annual consumption at 1.1 billion bottles, still a minuscule figure per capita in a nation of 1.3 billion people.
But increased affluence and awareness means the number of wine-drinkers keeps on growing.
As a long-time visitor to China, Torres has his own store of anecdotes about rather quirky local tastes. The habit of mixing fine wine with soft drinks, less common these days, was very much in evidence when the wine boss first started to visit, a custom that amazed and horrified him in equal measure.
He says: "I recall I was in a restaurant in Beijing with the Spanish ambassador, who pointed out that the people at the next table were drinking our flagship Mas la Plana. I had a look when I left and noticed that they were drinking it mixed with 7-Up."
Article from CHINA DAILY