Dynasty forges chateau as centrepiece of its winery

TIANJIN: It is arguably the very last structure anyone would expect to see rising from the flat industrial plains outside Tianjin: a Palace of Versailles-styled chateau fronted by a gleaming glass pyramid a la Musee du Louvre.

But after pausing to consider that Tianjin is home to Dynasty Winery, a 30-year-old joint venture between the French Remy Cointreau Group and the mainland's Dynasty Fine Wines Group, the unlikely Sino-Chateau should come as less of a surprise.

And like the best of the French wineries, Dynasty has its own chateau — complete with spires, battlements and marble statues paying tribute to Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. Gao Feng, executive director and general manager of Dynasty Fine Wines, says it is a "symbol to represent our identity".

But unlike its classic French counterparts, Chateaux Dynasty is a new building surrounded by functional blocks that process 60 million bottles of wine a year. It has also been designed with a view to hosting groups of suitably stunned visitors.

In addition, it functions as a private members' club, a conference centre, and a wine museum and educational centre.

Club memberships cost one million yuan (RM461,111.83) for three years, and permit access to opulent, Louis XIV-styled meeting rooms, 22 guest rooms, a spa with wine-themed treatments, a special tasting room, and a bar and cigar room.

Development of the chateau's facilities is not yet complete, with the guest rooms and spa opening within the next few months.

The chateau was launched at the end of last year and, according to Gao, seven prominent members of society have signed up, and another 10 are interested.

"It is very important to us to have a high position in society. I think the chateau can fulfill the needs of our developing society for more luxury," he said, speaking through a translator.

Non-members will need to pre-book visits through a travel agent that will offer a guided tour of the wine production facilities, wine cave, museum and shop, and a tasting of three or four vintages. Previously, about 500 visitors toured the Dynasty facilities on busy days, but this figure is likely to increase now that the museum and chateau have been built.

The wine museum, accessed through the glass pyramid, takes the form of a wine cellar and attractively charts the history of wine through the ages to Dynasty's present operations in Tianjin.

"The history of wine in China is short. Most consumers have no idea where wine comes from and how real wine is made," said Zhang Chunya, senior engineer at Dynasty Winery.

"Education is a big part of what we are doing. Through tastings we get feedback from customers, and we have a research centre and laboratories with top-end technology to develop new products. We are helping to educate customers, distributors and ourselves."

The conference facilities are another important aspect of the complex, as the demand for meeting facilities, especially for annual report conferences, has increased dramatically across the mainland in recent years. "The chateau aims to offer a multifunctional facility with restaurants and entertainment rooms so companies can hold their meetings there," said Gao.

Does the move into the hotel and entertainment business signal the group is looking to expand beyond its traditional focus on wine?

There are plans, says Gao, and one possible project is to develop residential buildings near the site of the chateau. "We may change part of our real estate, but the property is owned by our main shareholder, not by Dynasty, so nothing is confirmed," he said. — SCMP

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