Words & Wine From China: Meet Émilie Steckenborn, NP’s New Columnist

By Émilie Steckenborn |

I’m Émilie, a Shanghai based sommelier. Often, when I explain that I work in the wine industry in China, I typically get curious responses—generally, a mix of fear of the unknown and total confusion. But the reality is that China is a quickly evolving country and the food and drink scene is flourishing. In the months ahead, I hope to explore this thriving culture with you. But, first a little background…

I first arrived in China in 2011 to work for a specialized wine importer. I’ll admit that back then, good wine was a scarcity in Asia. Private wine labels, otherwise known as ‘OEM’ (derived from Original Equipment Manufacturer) wines, from France dominated the sector. Their heavy bottles and traditional labels signified low quality and high markups.

Mixing top Growth Bordeaux with Coca-Cola was common. The practice was neither a nod to the kalimotxo nor the latest bartending secret. However, the conception provided a beachhead into the Chinese palate, a path for consumers to adapt to the taste of wine. 

Times have changed—quickly. Today, I spend my days and nights travelling across Asia for work, hosting wine dinners, educating new consumers, and working with the fastest growing brands in the market. I’m happy to share the fact that I haven’t seen anyone mix wine with other beverages in the last five years. 

Instead, in top cities like Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou, you’ll find plenty of wine enthusiasts. This new generation of oenophiles seek out obscure cuvées and make pilgrimages to the great vineyards of the world. In 2011, the average Chinese citizen drank less than .5 liters per capita annually; today, the average Chinese citizen drinks more than double that, 1.3 liters per capita annually according to health studies. Sotheby’s March 2019 “Transcendent Wine Auction” in Hong Kong raked in $30 million shattering previous sales records worldwide.

Watching this evolution is why I love me job! Being able to witness the dynamic landscape of the food and beverage scene in China is a thrill.

A couple years ago, I decided to shed light on what’s actually going on in China and share my experiences with the rest of the world. The rise of China’s thriving food and beverage scene propelled me to start Bottled in China in 2016, an F&B podcast featuring key personalities and rising stars of the industry. Being able to share stories of individuals in the industry has become one of my favorite passions.

Inspired by the success of the podcast, I decided to branch out to create a column for Neat Pour. In the months ahead, I look forward to using this space to share future stories about F&B in China as well as my own passion: wine. Future articles will cover geeky subjects like Biodynamics farming, the reality of sulfites, and obscure wines of world. Keeping it slightly China related, I’ll also share posts about topics such as varietals that are thriving here in China (no, it’s not Cabernet!), Baijiu cocktails, and what type of juice to pair with Chinese street food.

So, take a sip and get ready for a journeys through palates and places.

Emilie has cultivated her palate through gaining her Diploma and Certified Educator from WSET, Certified Sommelier from CMS, HEG Certificate from Cordon Bleu, and is currently a Master of Wine Candidate. As Head of Education Asia & MEIA, she develops programs for front line staff across China, where her team trains thousands of drink enthusiasts across Asia. She currently serves as China Eastern Airlines Official Wine Consultant for First and Business Class.

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