Jon Bonné, wine editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, opines:
What does the Yao deal tell us about China? That everything the wine industry has come to believe about tackling the Chinese market is on target. Brands matter. Prestige matters. Celebrity matters. Why do Lafite and Mouton still reign supreme there? Because they have the reputation. Artisanship (with all due apologies to that press release) is irrelevant. Terroir is irrelevant — although the overall brand power of Napa Valley certainly holds sway.
Yao and his partners hit on a surefire scenario: Take one of the country’s key symbols of cultural export, mesh it with the power of Brand Napa and of stately Cabernet, and price it ambitiously enough that it takes on an importance of its own.
Indeed, pricing it lower would only dent its possible prestige-symbol status among China’s new elite. Even at $289 a bottle, a case still probably costs less than an oil change on Bo Guagua’s Ferrari.
It is unlikely that anyone but Yao could pull off this bit of leveraging, of course. The California names prestigious enough to succeed on their own (Screaming Eagle, maybe a short list beyond that) in the prestige-driven world of China’s collectors are few indeed. But hitch Napa to a homegrown superstar like Yao? Bingo.
Napa in particular should take note of this deal’s particulars. The concerns about the valley’s super-luxury pricing aren’t an issue in China; the issue is whether a wine has enough immediate and built-in cachet. That claptrap about cult-level production and rarity and the crucial value of a unique estate?
It is not what China is focused on, at least not right now. What matters is the ability to sell a wine that seems important. That’s all Yao Family Wines is attempting to do.
Previously on Shanghaiist
Fancy a bottle of “Yao Ming” Cabernet Sauvignon?