Emilie Steckenborn on the World of Wine in China

By Phoebe Kut, April 8, 2021

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Listening to Bottled in China, you can immediately grasp Emilie Steckenborn’s passion for F&B and, in particular, wine. Steckenborn has lived in China now for almost a decade and originally came to explore an opportunity working with a wine importer. In addition to the podcast, she has worked with established wine brands and distributors to build wine education programs across China. She shares with us some top Chinese wine producers at the moment, her favorite podcast episode and, of course, her favorite wine(s).


Where did your love of wine start?
Several factors influenced my decision to get into wine. My family didn’t drink much at home, but I would recall my grandparents bringing German Riesling at Christmas or Thanksgiving. I do recall being allowed to take a sip and feeling very elegant! 

Long before I knew anything about the business, my father read about how wine was an industry filled with passionate individuals and producers. It combined my love for food, travel, culture and he actually suggested it. As a young adult, I thought it was very classy to let my friends know that I wanted to be in the wine industry. I’m grateful he knew me so well and I kickstarted my career in wine and haven’t looked back!

How did you break into your current role?
I first came to explore an opportunity working with a wine importer specialized in US and Canadian wines. At the time, the market was just starting to take off, but French wine – and especially Bordeaux – was the only style of wine consumers wanted to buy. They brought me to showcase the diversity of wine and educate new consumers about various wine regions. Today, the market is very different, Chinese consumers are open-minded and willing to explore new wine regions and styles. 

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I’ve been lucky to work with some of the largest wine brands and distributors to build wine education programs across China. Educating both internal staff and hundreds of thousands of downstream consumers about wine education and service.

Where are the top producers in China?
The key wine regions in China are Shandong, Ningxia and Yunnan province. All three regions are very distinct. Currently, I’m enjoying Yunnan, it’s a boutique wine region where an altitude of 2,000-3,000 meters brings finesse and elegance to the wines. My favorite producer from that region is Xiaoling Estate. I was lucky enough to help out a bit during their recent vintage. What gets me excited about this producer is the small-scale production and hands-on approach. Also, the village of Xiaoling has an interesting wine culture as French missionaries planted vines back in the 19th century. Most locals are actually catholic and there’s even an old church in the city which feels very unusual for China!

On the other hand, Ningxia’s sunny climate makes richer and bolder wines. Some good producers to check out are Xige Estate, Kanaan and Silver Height.  

The Chinese wine industry is still just getting started, and quality is improving each year. If you’ve had a bad experience with bulk wine from China, then you should give it another try.

What’s your favorite episode of Bottled in China?
There are too many! We’ve published over 115 episodes. In regards to wine, I quite enjoyed speaking with Christelle Chene of Xige Estate. This was a two-part series covering everything you’d want to know about wines made in Ningxia, including why most Chinese wines are so expensive!

I enjoyed learning from Eric Hoang of Zeya (previously Lingya) regarding the seltzer category in China as well as the couple behind a Chinese-made gin: Crimson Pangolin

When it comes to food, I’ve discovered the fascinating world of alternative protein where we spoke to the CEO of Nature’s Fynd about creating revolutionizing lab-grown food backed by NASA. This podcast made me think about the future of food, and the possibilities we have yet to explore!

What’s your favorite wine and how do you like to enjoy it?
That’s a difficult question as it changes all the time! I always go for Riesling when going out for a Chinese dinner. Dr. Loosen is an excellent producer that can be found easily in China. 

If I’m looking for gifting or something with a heavy meal, then Penfolds from Australia is a very popular and well-respected brand internationally. It has an incredible story and the wines are muscular and juicy. A crowd pleaser!  

I personally love to collect old Rioja and old vintages of Chateau Musar. I also enjoy drinking grower Champagne, wines of the Loire Valley and make sure I always have some Tawse Winery in my cellar back home!)

The most important thing about wine is to be open-minded. 


Bottled in China is available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

[All images courtesy of Emilie Steckenborn]

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