Dedicating to developing a market for Chinese fine wines, David Henderson founded China Fine Wines in 2006. This is the only company in China (that we are aware of) that offers a selection of wines made in China exclusively for export. David Henderson has a wealth of experience in the import/export business and is one of the founders of Montrose Food & Wine over 30 years ago. Even in the 1980s, David saw the opportunity for growth in the then nascent Chinese market for Western products including fine wine. This week, David shares his thoughts about creating his own winery, Dragon’s Hollow, in Helan Mountain, Ningxia, China.
What inspired you to produce your own wines?
After becoming the first direct importer of fine wines into China, while watching the rapid development of the Chinese consumer I thought that like most other countries around the globe, they would eventually drink wine produced in their own country. Last year China depleted 157 million cases of wine, of which 85% was local production. I can see no slowdown in this growth as the Chinese consumer continues to embrace wine as a part of their daily life.
Back then, Shandong would have been a more popular choice of area to start a vineyard. Why did you choose Helan Mountain? What potentials did you see in the area?
I spent a year visiting potential vineyard areas and my concern was more about the terrior, water supply, and organic production possibilities. I traveled to many regions with Jess Jackson of KJ Vineyards and we both agreed that Ning Xia offered the strongest potential for the finest vineyard production in China. We tried a couple of locations closer to Beijing, which would have been better from a tourist standpoint. But, what we chose was the ideal location for making very fine wines in China.
Can you please tell us about the brand name, Dragon’s Hollow, and its logo, which we know are both designed by yourself? What did you come up with the name and does it have a special meaning?
The name Dragon’s Hollow was created to give our brand some Chinese identity. We considered many generic names but since we were going be the only “Made In China” wine to be exported out of the country, we decided to go with a name that we could internationally register and that would give us a true Chinese identity. The Chinese characters have a more specific translation of “Proud Dragon in the Cloudy Valley”…..and I did like that image too.
Your wines were introduced to the American market before the Chinese market. Can you please explain this strategic approach?
We were already a significant importer and distributor within China and we were selling wine made in China under other brand names. Our decision to go the USA and Europe first was to validate Dragon’s Hollow as an internationally accepted brand. In the beginning, in the USA, our focus was to sell to the licensed Chinese properties (restaurants and markets) of which there are 46,000 in the USA alone. The first cases we brought in did not have any Chinese characters on the label. Since then we have moved to include the name, appellation and varietal in both languages. Presently our customer base consists of 40% Asian themed restaurants and 60% on other off and on premises locations all across the United States.
Compared to Bordeaux, what are the advantages and disadvantages of the terroir of Helan Mountain?
Comparing to Bordeaux is difficult with all the viticulture focus and history in Bordeaux. However the thing to remember is that all the cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay vines that are planted around the world all came from France. Given the same commitment to quality and organic development to produce a high quality wine, there is no reason why China won’t continue to make solid premium varietals today. As the Chinese market continues to demand more and more complex and quality wines, the process will do nothing but improve.
What are your hopes with Dragon’s Hollow? Any future plans such as working with a new variety?
Our focus at this time is growing the market in the USA, presenting our wines are in most major cities and venues as possible. We focus on two varietals at the moment, but that could change within the next 12 months to increase our presentation of wines made in China.
Do you plan to export Dragon’s Hollow to Hong Kong or other Asian countries?
We should definitely be in Hong Kong but no plans presently for any other Asian markets.