How Judy Chan went from novice to president of China's top winery, Grace Vineyard
Thrown in at the deep end by her father, Chan had an intense few years getting to grips with managing winery in Shanxi, China. Now she appreciates the simple life there, a contrast to Hong Kong, writes Bernice Chan
"I didn't even know he had bought the vineyard. If I had known, I would have taken some wine courses. When I joined the firm, I thought my father would ask me to do administration and operations. But, on my first day, he said, 'We have a winery. We're launching a new product. Can you take over?' I didn't even know my father liked wine. To be honest, I don't think my father thought I could turn it around, but he kept saying, 'I believe you can do it.'
"Everything happened at the same time. I needed to learn about wine, about China, particularly Shanxi, as I had never been before. I didn't know how to run a team of 100 people, how to sell wine, or even about pricing. The first few years were intense. I didn't like wine then - it was a job. Every time I saw a wine bottle I felt I had to learn about it. There was no enjoyment whatsoever."
Were there any positives? "The fact that I'm not from the wine industry helped me to relate to our consumers better. I could relate to their fear when tasting wine and talk to them in a way they could understand. They don't know wine varietals, or our different wines, so we label the wines in different colours, to make it easier for identification. Our timing was right because people were willing to spend and there were so few producers back then - there were 10 vineyards in China; now there are more than 400. We were already making a profit by the time imported wines started flooding China, in 2008.
"Our wines are priced from 72 yuan [HK$85] to 588 yuan so we target the middle class. You can't cheat customers and expect long-term growth. They may not know wine today, but that doesn't mean they won't know wine tomorrow."
How is business in China these days? "There was a dip in 2014, but last year we got back to double-digit growth thanks to the customer-service scheme we rolled out. In the past, the people who bought wine didn't consume it; they bought it to build relationships. But now a lot of the buyers are the consumers. They are looking for value, the brand story and their connection with the winery."
"Both my grandfathers left China when they were 13 or 14 years old, for Southeast Asia. After they moved back, they went through the Cultural Revolution. My father left Indonesia when he was 15 years old and went to China. He lived in Beijing for a few years and then was sent to Inner Mongolia, to be a shepherd and be re-educated. Being overseas Chinese, he could apply to leave the country and he came to Hong Kong when he wsa about 25.
"One of the reasons my father and I like wine is because with a vineyard you feel you have roots. We like long-term planning, unlike most people in China. Because of wanting to plan for the long term, you can focus on quality."
"I never thought I would be in agriculture, checking the weather reports and watching rainfall. Growing up in Hong Kong is about money, status, cars. But when you live at a winery, life is simple. No one cares what you wear, I don't spend much money, friends come and visit me, we have noodles and barbecue. It helps me see life differently and have balance."
"I like running and reading. When I am in the winery I run around the estate. It's addictive - I've done two marathons, the Medoc marathon [in France], in 2014, and one in Xiamen in January."