Yao Ming launches namesake wine brand

Yao Ming launches namesake wine brand

The former NBA player has made a new slam dunk in Napa Valley. But will Chinese drinkers buy it?
Yao Ming Wine
Yao Ming at his retirement press conference on July 20, 2011. Was he thinking about Napa Valley?

Next time you dine in a high-end Shanghai restaurant, the wine list may well be sporting a familiar name: Yao Ming (yes, you read that right).

The Shanghai-born basketball star is launching his personal wine brand, labeled Yao Ming wine. 

According to Chinese media, the entrepreneurial Yao has registered a wine company in Napa Valley in the United States. 

The 2.29-meter celebrity is due to announce his new wine enterprise, Yao Family Wines (姚氏家族葡萄酒业公司), on November 27 in Shanghai during a charity auction held by International Special Olympics, for which he is the Global Ambassador. Read more at CNN.

Yao Ming’s wine plan

The 31-year-old multimillionaire will first launch 1,200 bottles of Yao Ming-branded 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley in China. Each 1.5-liter bottle will cost RMB 3,800.

Yao’s next step will be to push mid-range to high-end wines, with the former priced between RMB 2,000-5,000 per bottle and the latter costing between RMB 5,000-10,000 per bottle.

Yao Ming wine will be on sale in China from next week; quite where, has yet to be confirmed.

The product fits Yao’s image

Zhang Mingji (章明基), an executive with Yao Ming’s business management company Team Yao, told Xiaoxiang Morning Post that Yao has been careful to choose the products that fit his personal image. 

“The company is funded and founded by Yao Ming and his friends -- wine is a product with culture and class and Yao Ming likes drinking wine,” Zhang noted.

“Napa Valley is home to the best wines of the United States. Having founded a company here, Yao Ming’s company aims to produce high-end wines. Because of this [business] positioning, Yao uses his own name to brand [wine].”

Yao has donated the first bottle of Yao Ming wine, together with a shoe customized for him by Italian shoemaker Paolo Scafora, to the Olympics charity auction.

The event will held at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Pudong on Sunday evening and both items have a reserve price of RMB 60,000.

Fans' reactions

Although China is becoming one of the world's biggest wine markets, Yao Ming's wine prices have met with mixed reactions from Chinese consumers.

Xinhua News Agency reported that many Chinese wine drinkers have posted comments on Weibo, suggesting Yao's decision was influenced by the wealthy but ignorant Chinese wine market. 

"[China has] plentiful money, ignorant people, [that’s why businessmen should] come as quick as possible," was one Weibo comment quoted by Xinhua.

Jiang Decheng, a Zhejiang-native who has supported Yao for nearly 10 years, told China Daily he was worried Yao has ventured too deeply into business.

"I am afraid that this will slightly lower his public standing [by launching this wine]," said Jiang.

"To normal Chinese people, the price of Yao Ming wine doesn't have much to do with them -- but for fans of Yao Ming, the wine is worth tasting," commented Jiang Wei (姜伟), head of the Financial Department of Shenyang University. 

"Yao Ming has certain celebrity impact, but this is still limited. The product can increase its value through celebrity, but what's more important is how it will be operated."

Multitasking millionaire

Yao Ming topped Forbes’ Chinese celebrity list in 2011 by bringing in RMB 229 million last year. 

Having announced his retirement from sports on July 20 in Shanghai, the former Houston Rocket center is now a full-time student in Shanghai Jiaotong University, majoring in economics.

Yao also runs a few business on the side, the best-known being the Shanghai Sharks basketball team.

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