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The Grapes of Prosperity


When the 2008 Olympics turned the global spotlight to China, it also opened the eyes of wine producers around the world. Already famously popular in China, Chateau Lafite Rothschild added an embossed red Chinese character “八” (meaning “eight,” an auspicious number in Chinese culture) to its vintage 2008 bottles.

Lafite’s adoption of Chinese elements is not just coincidence. Perhaps connoisseurs don’t all consider Lafite the pinnacle of wine, but for novices, Lafite is more attractive. In China, the brand has come to symbolize wealth and social status, attracting a growing legion of followers. Along with increasing demand, its price has soared dramatically. Even the price tag for Carruades de Lafite, a second label, has eclipsed card-carrying wines of other First Growths, frustrating and confusing the chateau’s overseas rivals.

At recent years’ Bordeaux wine auctions and wine futures trading, the target market of high-end wines shifted from U.S. and U.K. to China, and Hong Kong wine auctions now attract highly competitive Chinese millionaires. In the industry, some laugh that every label is “either in China, or on the way to China.”

An interesting anecdote has recently been circulating among insiders: When British wine author Jancis Robinson visited Hong Kong-based wine critic Jeannie Cho Lee, he asked, “Why on earth do the Chinese love Lafite so much?” Lee replied with a sly grin, “Because its Chinese name is easy to pronounce.” Humor aside, the story sheds light on the reason why many foreign chateaus are working to replace the original awkward-sounding Chinese names of their products with new characters that are easy to read, speak, and remember while injecting connotations of good fortune.

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