When a top celebrity opens a winery in Napa Valley, it’s often a passion project that isn’t necessarily aimed at making a profit. For basketball star-turned-vintner Yao Ming, massive Chinese demand for bottles from his vineyard Yao Family Wines has turned his winery into a serious business pursuit as he actively seeks investors with a new Crowdfunder platform.
The winery announced this week that it’s launching a Crowdfunder campaign to secure U.S. investments for the next phase of its business expansion, which will include the opening of new tasting rooms and direct-to-consumer sales. It’s offering perks for top investors including invites to wine tastings, exclusive dinners, gala events, and even the chance to hang out with Yao himself.
While the investment opportunity is only legally open to U.S. citizens, the success of Yao’s wine in the China market is a major selling point for the company to investors. According to Tom Hinde, the winery’s president and director of winemaking, China represents between 80 and 85 percent of the winery’s total sales, which have reached $8 million since it released its first vintage in 2011. “We believe there is ample space to grow along with our Chinese customers and we are very excited about our future expansion,” he says.
“The goal of Yao Family Wines is to build valuable California wine brands in China. We will continue to focus on China as we go forward,” says Jay Behmke, the managing director of Yao Family Wines. As a result, the company is opening a new tasting room in Shanghai to further promote its wine in the China market. Behmke explained, “We want a location where Chinese wine lovers can come and explore the wines produced by Yao Family Wines. We believe that a personal experience with our wines is the best way to develop loyal customers. Customers who enjoy our wines at our tasting room, will continue to buy our wines online after their visit. We intend to build a wine club in China, whose members will get special offers to purchase wines and invitations for special experiences.”
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Yao Ming has something of a national hero status in China, but it’s not just his superstar name on the bottles driving purchases. The winery has also received significantly good reviews, with ratings between 90 and 98 points from top wine critic Robert Parker, Wine Spectator, and Wine Enthusiast.
Yao’s vintages are generally quite pricy, ranging from around US$200 up to $1,000, but as China’s high-end wine market has cooled amidst the country’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign, the winery has been introducing cheaper bottles at around US$87 to the market in order to reach middle-class buyers.
The winery’s global expansion plans tend to focus on markets with a heavy concentration of Chinese buyers, with distribution to Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, Canada and a planned launch in Taiwan later this year. It’s also hoping the brand will make further inroads in the United States market, and is planning to open a Napa Valley tasting room with its future investment funds.