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Symington and Fladgate: Port education is key to China

Published:  23 July, 2013

Giant Port producers Symington Family Estates and the Fladgate Partnership are expanding their joint education programme in China as they look to widen interest and distribution for Port in Asia. 

The two Port houses first teamed up in 2010 to set up the Vintage Port Academy in Hong Kong, through which they hoped to raise awareness and knowledge of Ports and vintage Ports, in particular, to Chinese consumers who had felt safer buying into prestigious Bordeaux and Burgundy houses. They are now opening a third Vintage Port Academy in Beijing, following the success of a Shanghai academy that started in 2012.

"Following the success of the Vintage Port Academy (VPA) programme in Hong Kong it has now been rolled out in mainland China. Every workshop has been oversubscribed since the programme started three years ago reflecting the thirst for knowledge of vintage Port and premium Port generally," said Nick Heath, marketing director at the Fladgate Partnership.

"The major driver was to try and ignite some interest in the category in Asia," said Euan Mackay, sales director for Symington Family Estates.

He admitted the relatively low price for vintage Port compared with a top Bordeaux vintage is actually a disadvantage in a market where price is seen as all important as a social status. "If it is has value and people have paid a lot of money for it, then consumers can show it off in these emerging markets. We did not hit that price point, which was necessary to attracting consumers." 

Instead it is looking to tap in to the Chinese's "thirst for knowledge" by offering specialist training, seminars and tastings through its Vintage Port Academies. "They need to understand our wines," said Mackay. "We set up the academy because we believe education is much more impactful."

Between them the two Port houses represent six of the most iconic Port brands including Graham's, Dow's, Warre's, Taylor's, Fonseca and Croft, but Mackay stressed the education programme is not brand focused but designed to give students an overview and understanding of how Port is made with specific focus on its vintage Ports.

"If we didn't do anything, then nothing was going to happen," he added. But stressed the information provided "was impartial and all about the wider Port industry". The academy also looks to show how Port can be paired with Asian and Chinese cuisine. "We can show them, for example, how hairy crab goes so well with a tawny Port," said Mackay. 

There are plans, he said, to use the Vintage Port Academy to enter other emerging Port markets such as Russia.