Edouard Duval is a man with a heart divided. His family owns one of the most prestigious Champagne houses, Duval-Leroy. Yet, Edouard has spent the last 16 years in China. His heart is not broken, but the opposite: it bursts with passion for fine wine and the secrets of the wine trade. Edouard has been wasting no time, he is the CEO and cofounder of East Meets West Fine Wines, an importer with a significant presence in China.
This is the story of two companies, a winery with 160 years of winemaking tradition, and a dynamic importer in the fastest growing market the world has ever seen; this is the story of a man tightly linked to both.
You listen to the market, you look at the trends, you look at what people are looking for, and you look for wine to bring into your portfolio
Duval-Leroy Champagne House started in 1859, and it’s one of the few independent houses still controlled by its founding family. Carol Duval-Leroy took the reins of the company after his spouse, Jean Charles passed away in 1991. Eventually, three of their sons joined the family business, and still run it today.
Edouard, the fourth and youngest sibling, took a different path. He moved to Boston to study business and unavoidably, after traveling to China, he fell in love. He soon made it home.
The winery owns 200 hectares of vineyards, many in the prestigious Cote de Blancs, including coveted premier and grand cru plots. Duval-Leroy is well known in the western world, but in China it struggles along with all other Champagne houses to break in.
Champagne is a strong, well-protected brand. Big, established houses have the means and expertise to retain their dominance in the category, but they need insight to crack the Chinese market.
“The wineries have to spend time to understand the market, to meet the people, to travel here, before making the decision of developing the China Market,” enlists Edouard as the recipe for a successful long-term strategy.
This is the role of the importer. “The importers’ job is to help the wineries reach the different channels, to talk with them openly about their strategy,” says Edouard. “To be able to tell them clearly what they can achieve here, what we can do together with them.”
Edouard moved to China in 2005 realizing the huge opportunity in the fine wine market and founded EMW importing firm. Recently the company celebrated its 15th anniversary, not an easy feat in China’s whimsical market.
Chinese people are not fond of cold drinks and sparkling ones are still looked with skepticism. But Edouard wasn’t there just to sell Champagne, a varied portfolio, based on family-owned wineries from all over the world, has kept the company afloat.
“You listen to the market, you look at the trends, you look at what people are looking for, and you look for wine to bring into your portfolio,” says Edouard making it sound easy. “We want all our partners to be successful here, we don’t have two producers from the same region, same price point, it makes no sense.”
Today EMW represents over 80 brands, from Emilio Moro to Paul Jaboulet Aine; they are sole distributors of Duval-Leroy too, as expected.
You need a good strategy if you don’t want to depend on lucky one-shot deals. The market is changing. 15 years ago, French wine was number one, it was all premium wine. Now people want good value. Australia, Chile, Spain have grown a lot because of it.
For Edouard, the next big thing is Champagne. At least he hopes Chinese people will start seeing it as wine, and not as a luxury, superficial, night club commodity. He knows, more than anyone that Champagne is a fantastic product that should be better understood and appreciated. Last year, sales grew a staggering 50% in the country, but it’s still far of meeting its potential.
The importer can’t do it all. Brands have to invest in the Market. Western brands need to understand that their Facebook adds, their websites and marketing campaigns don’t go past the Great Wall. This is an inside job. With the right man, in time, Champagne will find a way.
Enjoy the full interview with Edouard Duval, only on Bottled in China
Author: Franco Salzillo, Certified Somm & Wine Writer