Möet Hennessy has long been famous for champagne and cognac but since its purchase of Wenjun in 2007, it plans to capture the market for ‘Baijiu’ or Chinese white spirit in China and across Europe. Recognising the new affluence and increasing demand for premium white spirits, Möet Hennessy is bringing its marketing and packaging experience to this established Chinese brand. In October 2011, Wenjun was launched in Hong Kong as a luxury brand.
The Wenjun story began more than 2,000 years ago during the West Han Dynasty. Zhuo Wenjun, the maverick daughter of an official in the southern province of Sichuan opened a shop selling white spirits and named it after herself. She concocted the spirit with pure water from a well in her backyard. Established in 1951, the Wenjun tradition of using pure mountain water in production continues.
Currently, Wenjun produces this top-grade white spirit which is sealed in titanic ceramic vats and produced after years of patient ageing. The spirit is produced from mainly sorghum, which is a cereal grass. Located in Chengdu in Sichuan, the terroir and climate here is excellent for producing this white spirit, which is traditionally very high in alcohol at 52 per cent.
Master Blender Madame Wu Xiaoping produces Wenjun using the Ming Dynasty’s ‘Kou Family Distillation Process’. From germination of the grains to the fermentation of the ‘low wines’ in huge pits and the final distillation in small pot stills, the whole process is labour intensive. Madame Wu carefully grades and selects the best spirits. Then she keeps the best in ceramic vats for prolonged maturation. A food friendly spirit, Wenjun is very much a part of Chinese culture, and Chinese chefs use it as a marinade for lobster and chicken to add new dimensions to flavour, in the same way European chefs add wine to their food. At the distillery, the Wenjun Museum of Spirit History showcases ancient distilling techniques and famous calligraphy pieces created in honour of Wenjun.
Exclusive Interview with Mathieu Duchemin
In an exclusive interview with Mathieu Duchemin, Möet Hennessy’s Director of Travel Retail, I asked what is the target audience for Wenjun as a luxury white spirit and Mathieu explained that it is mostly the People’s Republic of China.
ML: Are you hoping to promote Wenjun to those who normally drink Hennessy?
Mathieu: Definitely! Wenjun is distributed within the Möet Hennessy distribution network and shares many values with Hennessy in terms of tradition and quality.
ML: Is Wenjun available in duty free retail outlets in London, Paris and Rome airports?
Mathieu: Wenjun will be introduced in to key European airports in the coming months, in London and Paris for sure. Wenjun is available in all the international airports in Asia Pacific.
ML: For white spirits what is the market share of Wenjun in Asia?
Mathieu: Within the Bai Jiu category. We are still a small player in terms of volumes, but a very fast-growing actor in terms of super-premium quality reputation. Wenjun is currently being launched in the domestic markets of Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia, among others.