Marco Milani, CEO of Silver Heights and founder of Marco Milani Consulting

Marco Milani, CEO of Silver Heights and founder of Marco Milani Consulting

From East to global feast: Marco Milani of Silver Heights offers insights into the vibrant growth of Chinese wineries and advice for crafting successful export strategies.

General drinkers might know that Chinese produced wines are the rising star in the global wine industry – but how actively is the market actually growing? 

At present, China ranks 3rd in terms of vineyard surface area and 8th in consumption across the world, according to OIV’s 2022 report on state of the world vine and wine sector. As the industry grows, more and more local wineries are gaining international acclaim.  

Among these, the Chinese winery Silver Heights has garnered particular renown. Established in 2007 within the Ningxia province, this family-owned enterprise stands as a cornerstone of the nation’s viticulture landscape.

Silver Heights’ international recognition has contributed significantly, accounting for about 60% of Ningxia’s total wine exports. As of 2022, the province’s wine production has yielded a substantial RMB 30 billion in total production value.

Spearheading Silver Heights’ export market is Marco Milani. Not only is Milani the CEO of Silver Heights, but he is also the founder behind Marco Milani Consulting. Established in Hong Kong in 2012, this consultancy specializes in the intricate realms of fine wine business, offering invaluable insights into global market expansion and strategic corporate development.

Hailing from Italy, Milani, a fervent economist, has made his mark in Shanghai, wielding more than 13 years of extensive experience in both the wine business and Asian markets.

Intriguingly, what factors contribute to the success of a Chinese winery? To gain insight, we turn to Marco Milani. Drawing from his rich experience working within the ambit of a Chinese winery, he sheds light on the challenges and opportunities that define this dynamic industry.

Marco Milano
Marco Milani

What is it like working for a Chinese winery?

Making wine in China has one big advantage of being free to experiment and improve.

There are no wineries with hundreds of years of history. And there is less fear to make mistakes. There is not a long tradition of winemaking that locks you in and affects decisions. Here, most of the wineries are run by the first generation, driven by people that have precisely chosen this job. It somehow, I think, resembles a similar atmosphere that was in California in the 1960s and 1970s – a lot of enthusiasm and optimism.

Your company Marco Milani Consulting has different experiences both in expanding foreign wineries’ export market in Asia pacific and vice versa. Are there any shared lessons and experiences or differences in both?

Each wine, each winery, has its own personality and positioning. I think the job of a consultant is to understand the company needs, ambitions and resources, to set a roadmap with several goals, and to produce concrete results since the beginning. Having tailor-made strategies is the approach that my consulting company is using in order to maximize winery and distributors satisfaction. 

Silver Heights’ export market has expanded a lot over the past two years. Can you share how many markets Silver Heights is exported now, and what are the new markets you are looking at next?

Silver Heights has been well received and appreciated by wine lovers and chefs around the world. This is the real gratification. Being accepted by people from different cultures with different taste and habits, and without losing the authenticity of the product and becoming generic. Notably, this expansion occurred during the pandemic, amplifying the sense of achievement. Currently Silver Heights is exported to 16 countries. The goal now is not rushing to expand more but to consolidate the result. Opening new markets is not placing flags. Instead it is to create relationship with the importers and consumers. And this deserves a lot of care and attention.  

Has perception of Chinese wines changed much based on your experiences at Silver Heights? 

China has already demonstrated its capability to produce exceptional wines, a trend set to continue. Silver Heights’ positive reception globally contributes to heightened awareness of the quality of its wines.

For a Chinese winery eager to scale up exports and globalize, what are the key elements in formulating export strategy?

To focus on quality, first. Market is highly competitive. But at the same time to feel confident, the wine world is happy to welcome new terroirs.

You also have to understand well market segment and balance resources. And to proceed step by step. Meanwhile, be brave and remember what happened in 1976 Judgement of Paris.

What’s your advice on successfully tapping into new export markets, especially when the targeted market is not familiar with a brand?

Stimulating curiosity is paramount. Swiftly comprehending the buyer and their preferences is vital. Combining seriousness with a delicate touch when following up is important. At last, the quality of sales approach must be consistent with the quality of your wines.

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