Book Reviews

Book Review: Thirsty Dragon

The author tells the fascinating story of the quest of China’s nouveau riche trying to become connoisseurs of wine, and aggressive businessmen circumventing the Bordeaux trade traditions.

Bordeaux chateaux, wineries, and negociants, are all about trade and profits.

There is a convoluted and expensive distribution system that makes wines more expensive than they should be. Chinese entrepreneurs want to break that system and are now buying properties to cut out the middlemen.

First, you must know that Chinese are essentially beer and beiju (spirit) drinkers. Wine, although produced for centuries in China, is a “new” alcoholic beverage to the average inhabitant of the country.

European wine merchants introduced Bordeaux (especially classified and very expensive chateaux wines) to the newly wealthy Chinese entrepreneurs, to profit from their curiosity.

Most Chinese prefer red wine, to white.

Still now, expensive Bordeaux wines are bought by entrepreneurs, manufacturers and presented to influential local party functionaries as gifts, who in turn present the bottle to their superiors. It is used as a “bribe” to induce “favours” and facilitate permits and approvals.

Less frequently, people who receive expensive wines sell them to merchants for considerably less that their true value, for cash. Wine retailers profit twice.

The Bordelais and Chinese do business according to different and often incompatible set of rules, and the author uncovers little known facts about the Bordeaux wine trade, namely what the brokers, negociants, and chateaux management do to sell wine.

Occasionally, importers lose a lot of money buy buying “futures” in Bordeaux before ascertaining that the quality of the vintage warrants it, but may also be unaware of the financial conditions 18 – 24 months ahead as was the case after the 2008 financial melt-down that was triggered by greedy American bank managers.

The Chinese government want the country to become noted wine producer for two reasons – prestige, and to encourage masses to drink wines, rather that spirits.

Bordeaux producers (small estates) produce more than they can sell in France and must export. The Chinese market has looked, and still looks very lucrative, especially for low-end wines, with millions of consumers.

Negociants and importers spend considerable funds to educate the public how to evaluate, appreciate, select, store, and serve wine, hoping to benefit in the long term for their efforts.

All at once, this book tells of skulduggery and huge cultural clashes, adventure, ambition, and greed.

Thirsty Dragon offers a behind-the-scenes- look at challenges facing the world’s most famous and prestigious wines.

Winemakers all over the world, and winery owners/managers, and export directors will benefit from this superbly researched and exquisitely written book.

Highly recommended.

Comments are closed.