The students in China learning and talking about wine on WeChat

A group called Wine in University, which has close to 7,000 followers across China, meets using smartphone app, which makes it easy to hear expert talks and to chat about wine with fellow enthusiasts

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 April, 2016, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 April, 2016, 12:00pm

Tencent’s WeChat might be known as a popular messaging app with a built-in wallet function, but for a group of young wine enthusiasts in China, it has become an effective educational tool, too.

Wine in University, an association for students from 28 tertiary education institutions across China, has been using the app to connect with experts in the field to learn more about the subject. The group meets up over its chat channel regularly and members use the voice messaging function to discuss topics from the production and branding of wines to running a wine business to what it is like being a sommelier.

It has now close to 7,000 followers on its WeChat account, while each chat session has a capacity of up to 500 members.

“We have members from all over the country who are enthusiastic in learning about wine, and WeChat is a great tool for them to interact with wine experts.” says Ted Zhang, who heads Wine in University and studies oenology at Northwest A&F University in Xianyang, Shaanxi province.

“Almost everyone in China has the WeChat app on their smartphone.”

The ease of connecting online has further fuelled the already growing interest in wine among young Chinese.

Falling prices of top-quality wines (such as high-end Bordeaux) since the Chinese government launched its crackdown on corruption and luxury spending, as well as more lower-cost labels entering the market (notably from free-trade partners such as Chile and Australia) means wine drinking is now more affordable.

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Speakers at the sharing sessions typically give an hour-long talk on a predetermined topic using WeChat’s built-in audio function. Participants are able to tune in to the talk real time by listening to the messages and interact with the speaker by leaving text messages to ask questions during Q&A.

Judy Chan, president of Grace Vineyard, near Taiyuan, in Shanxi province, was one of the guests. She talked to students about local wine production from the comfort of her own home.

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“Previously, physical distance was always a problem. I want to support educating young people who are interested in wine, but it is impossible for me to travel to universities across the country to talk to them,” she says. “WeChat provides a very cost-effective and time-effective method to do this.”

This non-traditional and more relaxed approach to learning also appeals to students, says Li Demei, an oenology professor at Beijing’s China Agricultural University who gave his first Wine in University talk last September.

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“On WeChat, there is no pressure on students to learn or achieve good grades, nor are there any examinations,” he says. “It is a free and relaxed way for students to gain knowledge about the wine industry according to their interests.”

Guo Minghao, a mentor in the WeChat group and founder of a company that focuses on branding for local wines, says one of the app’s strongest features is its ability to reach out to the masses. “This is something that traditional education channels have yet to achieve.”

Wine in University also holds offline wine-tasting events for members every month, and information about the outings are posted via the association’s WeChat account.

It now plans to invite overseas wine experts to give talks (in English) so Chinese students can have a more international perspective on winemaking and wine appreciation.