Friday, 22 April 2016

The secret behind the success of San Felice

With over 20 years of presence here, San Felice is one of the pioneer Italian wine brands in Hong Kong, at the time when the majority of wine in the market was from France. Today, with many more Italian players in the market, San Felice is still one of the most recognised Italian wine brands. I had a chance to discuss with Leonardo Bellaccini, San Felice’s winemaker for over 30 years, about the brand’s success and his view on the Asian market.

Leonardo attributed the brand’s success largely to the effort of its importer, Valdivia/Castello Del Vino, who has been San Felice’s partner in Hong Kong since the beginning, and understands San Felice’s philosophy and vision. He believes that being at the right places is more important than setting sales volume, and he is glad that San Felice is available in major hotels and restaurants, including The Peninsula, Four Seasons, Aqua and Sevva. Of course regular visits to the market, in Leonardo’s case, twice a year to Hong Kong, and supporting importer on various marketing activities also help. Nevertheless, his advice to newcomers to any markets: identifying a good importer is mandatory to success.

Claudia Capelvenere, managing director of Valdivia Ltd, echoed Leonardo, that mutual trust is the success to build the wine brand in the market. She also praised San Felice’s honest pricing, that they never increased  prices unreasonably because of awards, limited supply or allocation. This gives her space and time to develop the brand. The fact that Valdivia is the oldest family-owned importer specialises in Italian wine since 1975 allows the company to establish a strong rapport with key on-trade customers.

Leonardo is positive about Hong Kong. He does not see Hong Kong only as a gateway to China, and compares Hong Kong to Manhattan, both rich markets where all brands want to have a foothold. Hong Kong wine market is some 30 years more mature than China’s with more developed wine and cuisine culture while Chinese consumers are still at the discovery stage.

Turning to other Asian markets, Leonardo said Japan used to be San Felice’s number one market but it is more of a historical market now largely because of the stagnant economy, and perhaps partly because of a not-too-ideal import partner. However, he is bullish in South Korea and Singapore, currently number one and three of San Felice’s markets in Asia, with Hong Kong being number two.

Of course quality is also essential to the brands’ success. Leonardo’s believes in indigenous grapes which have a strong link to the region, and show much better of terroir. International grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot have strong personalities that put their fingerprints over terroir rather than expressing it. Having said that, San Felice is one of the first Chianti wineries to have produced a Super Tuscan Vigorello, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot, back in 1968, when Chianti was suffering from a poor reputation. San Felice wanted to show the world that Chianti is capable of producing a modern, international wine with a Tuscan character.

Nevertheless, to ensure full expression of terroir, its Chianti Classico Il Grigio Riserva, only uses 100% Sangiovese while the Chianti Classico Gran Selezione Il Grigio uses Sangiovese with a touch of other local grape varieties including Pugnitello, Malvasia Nera and Ciliegiolo. Gran Selezione is a new denomination approved by the European Commission in 2014 to showcase the excellence of Chianti Classico. Wine classified in this category must be made by grapes from the wineries‘ own vineyards, aged a minimum 30 months in oak and be judged and approved by a panel, amongst others. 2014 only had 25 wines approved while this year has increased to 93. Leonardo was very pleased that his Gran Selezione 2011 was awarded the #1 wine of Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 2015, demonstrated that San Felice’s success is a combination of quality, commitment and good partnership.

San Felice is available from Castello Del Vinov

Abridged version was published on Spirito diVino April/May 2016 issue

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