Wine education for young Chinese consumers

New AGWA-funded research is providing important insights into the most effective way to inform and educate the next wave of Chinese wine drinkers.

Wine marketing specialists at the University of South Australia’s Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science are in the final stages of a project examining how, and how quickly, young Chinese consumers learn about wine. It is one of three recent projects into the tastes, perceptions and behaviour of Chinese consumers carried out by Dr Armando Corsi, Dr Justin Cohen and Prof Larry Lockshin.

In the latest study the researchers worked with groups of Chinese students in Adelaide who attended education ‘courses’ run like a wine club.

‘These students fit the demographic of an emerging wine consumer in China’, said Dr Cohen. ‘All were keen to learn more about wine; what we wanted to see was how the learning process plays out’.

Each of three phases produced interesting results. In the first, two groups tasted and were educated about the same nine wines (three varieties of red, one from each of three regions) but one group’s course was structured around the regions and the other’s around the varieties. Based on the way the students were subsequently able to evaluate the wines, the regional structure seemed more effective. In this phase, and all subsequent phases, there was always a control group who undertook the wine evaluations without any education to guarantee rigour.

In the second phase, two different groups received wine training by region of origin. However, the tasting terms and food pairings were either Western or Chinese (based on the research team’s previous work).

‘What we immediately noticed was that the Chinese-framed group was amazed that we had gone to the effort to relate wine to their cuisine, fruits, vegetables and spices – they were so much more engaged and interested’, Dr Cohen said.

The research was also extended by asking the participants to write wine reviews and this was another measure of the effectiveness of education.

‘But when we analysed the impact of the wine education at the end of the course it seemed that the Western approach was slightly more effective. This might be due to the context; they were sitting in Australia and learning in English. We would like to replicate the study in China, using a Chinese educator’.

The preliminary results from the third phase are perhaps even more instructive in terms of developing a sector approach to wine education in China. The standard program from the previous phases was extended to include a wine dinner at T Chow, a popular Chinese restaurant in Adelaide, where they were served the wines. Their learning was measured again in a realistic setting with the Chinese dishes previously discussed as suitable pairings.

‘What shocked us is how quickly they were able to improve their ability to communicate about wine after just a few sessions’, Dr Cohen said.

‘They started out with basic terms and writing just a few words but by the end of the course they were almost writing poetry about the wines because they were just that much more comfortable’.

There is an early indication from the measurement in this phase of the research that just one wine session has a significant impact on learning.

‘That’s important because the wine sector is trying to work out what is the best platform for delivering wine education – for example multi-session courses, or one-day events such as master classes’, Dr Cohen said.

‘By the end of the analysis of this project, which will take us a few months, we’ll be able to make some conclusions and advise on a structure for a wine education program.’

Wine Club at the University of South Australia.
Wine Club at the University of South Australia.