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Chinese wine students are boon for Bordeaux
by Staff Writers
Bordeaux, France (AFP) Oct 23, 2011

One of France's oldest oenology schools, La Tour Blanche, is fighting falling enrolment through a tie-up with a Beijing wine school, the latest in a string of Bordeaux institutes to look East for their future.

The wine school, which just turned 100, today teaches the ropes of the trade to 150 students in the Tour Blanche estate in Sauternes, near the southwestern French wine capital of Bordeaux.

The China scheme will bring 25 extra students into the classrooms in 2013, and 50 in 2014, offering them twin training in wine and food pairing.

At a time of falling enrolment, the numbers are "significant", said Alex Barrau, director of La Tour Blanche School of Viticulture and Oenology.

"We've seen a diminishing number of students in France who sign up in viticulture schools," he said.

"If you look beyond the classified growth estates, a lot of wine growers are suffering. The recovery from the crisis has not been quick. Students don't see a future" in the profession, he said.

For La Tour Blanche, the scheme is also a way to spur sales of Sauternes, a sweet white wine made from grapes affected by noble rot that was once coveted by tsars but is often overlooked by today's consumers.

"The Chinese wine market is in full development, but sweet wines are not really present in the market. For us this is also a way to give them more visibility," said Barrau.

"The students will get a general wine education, but geographically, there will be an accent on sweet wine."

China is now Bordeaux's largest export client, and analysts at the London-based International Wine and Spirit Research recently predicted China will outdrink the United States to become the world's thirstiest nation within 20 years.

"Day after day, month after month, more people are interested in wine in China, and more people are working in the wine trade," explained Herve Remaud, wine chair at Bordeaux Management School (BEM).

This rapid expansion creates a demand for wine education, and Bordeaux's wine schools hope to provide that training.

"Eight years ago, one percent of our students were Chinese, today it's 10 percent and it's growing. If we wanted it to be, it could be 50 percent," said Claire Dawson, spokesperson for INSEEC business school, which is also working to attract Chinese students.

-- 'Thirst for knowledge' --

Chinese would-be wine professionals, be they sommeliers or traders, are attracted by the teaching on offer, she says, but also by the prospect of building a network of wine industry contacts in the Bordeaux region.

A similar trend can be found on the Chartrons quay in Bordeaux's historical wine district at Cafa Formations where half of the students are now Chinese.

Cafa's success is such that they have a school in Beijing, a partnership with another school in the northern city of Xian, and run on-the-road intensive training programs in 15 Chinese cities.

"This year we have begun training teachers in France, who will then become instructors for us in China," said Franck Chausse, head of studies at Cafa.

Bordeaux' different wine schools have each developed specialty areas, with Cafa, for instance, putting the focus on the product.

"We teach them about terroir, what wine is and how to choose one cabernet sauvignon from another," said Cafa's director Patrick Portier.

The city's BEM school, meanwhile, is more turned towards marketing, offering a wine and spirits MBA with residency programmes in Adelaide, Sonoma in California, Bordeaux, and Hong Kong, the hub of Asian wine trading.

"Chinese students enrolled in the Wine MBA who already work can't get much vacation during the year, so we created this partnership," said Remaud of the program launched in 2010 at Hong Kong University's School of Professional and Continuing Education.

"It's much easier for them to do the MBA in Hong Kong."

The Hong Kong students are both people in the wine trade and professionals looking to switch careers.

"Their knowledge levels vary, as does their interest in wine -- some prioritise the business side, some the wine side," said Richard Bampfield, a Master of Wine and lecturer at BEM in Hong Kong.

BEM is strengthening its programme in Asia by exploring distance learning for mainland Chinese and offering joint online learning sessions between the Bordeaux and Hong Kong students from next January.

"One common theme, as it has been in nearly all the Chinese I have met, is their enthusiasm -- their thirst for knowledge and desire to improve themselves is fantastic," said Bampfield.

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