In the heart of Shanghai, two decades ago, a vision was born. As the city hummed with the energy of a nation on the rise, two lifelong friends and later business partners, Edouard Duval and Gregory Bielot, recognized an untapped potential in China’s burgeoning appetite for fine wines. Then East Meets West Fine Wines (EMW) was born. It was envisioned as a bridge connecting cultures, introducing a plethora of imported wines to Chinese taste buds, which, until then, had primarily known the fiery Chinese liquor Baijiu.
Ove the course of 20 years, it would not only transform the wine landscape of China but also etch its name as a formidable player in the global wine industry. As 2023 marks the 20th anniversary of EMW, we are uncorking the story of passion, perseverance, and unparalleled success.
While the official inception of EMW was in 2003, the seeds were sown two years prior. Edouard Duval’s maiden voyage to Shanghai in 2001, visiting his friend Gregory Bielot, was more than just a casual trip. It was an eye-opener. “China was not just a charming country in the East,” Edouard reflected. He saw a nation on the cusp of a wine revolution, a place where the thirst for imported wines was just beginning to burgeon.
His subsequent visit in 2004, as part of his OIV Master of Science in Wine Management course, further solidified this belief. He recalled, “The market at that time was very different from what it is now, much smaller, less mature, the logistic for wines was a challenge and the market was dominated by a couple of players trusting the majority of the market. In terms of wines, it was mainly GCC from France or very entry-level wines, most of the times imported in bulk and bottled in China.”
The initial years were marked by challenges, from navigating a nascent market dominated by a few players to understanding the unique tastes and preferences of Chinese consumers. Yet, the rapid growth in early 2000s after China joined World Trade Organization fuelled EMW’s rise.
Hailing from the illustrious Duval-Leroy champagne family, Edouard had wine in his veins. He recognized the untapped potential of the Chinese market and was determined to be at the forefront of this wine renaissance. By 2006, alongside Gregory, he had laid the foundation for EMW, a company that would soon take off.
EMW’s expansion strategy has always been more strategic than aggressive.
The year 2007 was a significant one for China, with the Beijing Olympic Games on the horizon. The capital city was buzzing with anticipation, and its Food & Beverage (F&B) market was no exception. New upscale hotels and restaurants were sprouting up, catering to an increasingly global audience. Yet, despite this boom, Beijing lacked a major wine importer to meet the growing demand for premium wines.
Gregory saw this gap as an opportunity and decided to establish EMW’s first branch in Beijing. Starting with a modest team of fewer than six members, the Beijing branch ventured into a market that was distinct from the established East China market. The challenges were manifold, but the vision was clear.
Olivier Six, current CEO of EMW, got his start from EMW’s Beijing office. He reminisced about the early days in Beijing, stating, “When I first joined our Beijing office in 2009, the wine market was so different back then, mainly dominated by red wines with a strong emphasis on Bordeaux wines. Being in charge of such a vast territory, North China, I quickly realized how big China was and how the wine market was sub-divided. After many trips to meet our partners and clients, I understood better each sub-market and its specifications.
The expansion didn’t stop in Beijing. In 2010, with an eye on the thriving F&B market of Shenzhen, EMW established its next branch. To streamline operations and ensure timely deliveries, a dedicated warehouse was set up, reinforcing EMW’s presence in the southern wine markets.
By 2012, EMW had laid out its operations in Mainland China, and the next logical step was to tap into the more competitive and mature Hong Kong market. “It was a challenge to establish the Hong Kong office,” Gregory, who opened and headed the Hong Kong office admitted, “as the market there was more mature, and very few companies from Mainland of China managed to succeed in this very competitive market. After 18 months, we started to become an important actor, working with top hotels and Michelin-stared restaurants.”
The expansion trajectory continued, and by 2013, EMW had reached Chengdu, a pivotal city in Southwest China. Fast forward to today, and EMW boasts an impressive network of 7 branches, 15 offices, and a dedicated team of over 150 employees. This expansive team caters to more than 3,500 clients nationwide.
EMW’s commitment wasn’t limited to just importing wines. It helped to cultivate a culture of wine appreciation in China. “As early as 2009, we became one of the earliest approved program providers for WSET training,” said a proud Edouard. This dedication to education was further solidified with collaborations with reputed wine education providers such as Grapea & Co. and Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting.
Fongyee Walker MW, Co-founder of Dragon Phoenix Wine Consulting, lauds EMW’s dedication, stating, “Best wishes to EMW for 20 years of consistent high-quality wine service with a portfolio representing some of the world’s best wineries. It is a pleasure to show the wines they represent to wine students at all levels from across China.”
The company also played an active role in elevating sommelier professionalism in China by organizing sommelier trainings. Their collaborations with industry stalwarts, like Tommy Lam, founder of the Sommelier Association of Singapore, and initiatives like the SOMM100 project and the Annual China Sommelier Competition, underscore the company’s commitment to elevating the standards of wine professionals in China.
The digital revolution has not been lost on EMW. The year of 2019 saw EMW embracing e-commerce. Liz Li, E-commerce & Digital Marketing Director at EMW, emphasized the importance of this move. “E-commerce has developed a lot during the three years of the epidemic. However, the future lies in omnichannel marketing, ensuring a seamless experience for our consumers.”
The challenges posed by the 2020 epidemic were formidable, especially for the F&B channels. Yet, EMW’s agile response, bolstered by its e-commerce initiatives and the unwavering dedication of its team, ensured that the company navigated these turbulent times with resilience.
Today, EMW has partnered with over 110 wineries and sake breweries in 16 countries around the globe, including four Chinese wineries from Ningxia and Xinjiang.
To celebrate EMW’s 20th anniversary, the company has planned a series of events including large portfolio tastings in 11 cities across China throughout the whole year, showcasing ing their premium wine wines, crafted sakes, and their latest arrivals. The tastings kicked off in Xi’an in March, followed by events in cities like Chengdu, Hangzhou, Tianjin, and will culminate in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Macau, Shanghai in November.
Olivier Six, expressed his excitement, stating, “Our success is deeply intertwined with choosing the right wineries and partners. We’ve grown alongside them, and their unwavering support has been instrumental.”
Looking ahead, he is excited about what’s to come. “As we celebrate the past, we’re also looking forward to the future with many surprises in store. So, stay tuned for exceptional wines, sakes, and cognac!” he enthused.