Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Gig in the People's Republic of China

I went to China with the idea of doing a book on Chinese Vineyards and Wineries. I'm coming away with not only ample material for that book, but also with an assignment from Chateau Junding, probably China's most upscale winery. It's basically a partnership between a government company and a private developer.

The whole experience was surreal. I kept telling myself, "Have fun, you have nothing to lose here."

Chateau Junding was the third winery to visit on my list. I had made arrangements, but somehow, while here in China, my status must have been elevated. At first, Ma Fei, a PR person on the job for only a few months, was to meet Houghton, my interpreter, and I at the Yantai airport. Suddenly we find out that Ms. Lin, the head of marketing and brand development was meeting us. This is serious. And the emails we received from her implied that the Chateau would comp all meals and rooms. OK. That wasn't too unusual in other countries when wineries find out which magazines use my photos and writing. But here in China, it seemed unusual.

During the drive to the Chateau, I gave Ms. Lin my most recent book, Oregon: The Taste of Wine
as a gift. That night, during the 20-course dinner, she kept going through the book. She was obviously impressed and kept showing her favorite photographs to others. It turns out, the book, my creditentials and a foreign photographer was exactly what she was looking for.

By the end of the third day at the Chateau, Ms. Lin was talking about contract details, usage rights and flying me back in September to do additional photography. As this was all unfolding around me, usually at multi-course dinners and mostly in Chinese, I couldn't believe it. Getting a gig in the People's Republic of China. And the wine was fine.

But sealing deals in China is not a stright line. First, I had to be approved by
Mr. Ji, the Penglai Winery Association Director. Over another huge dinner, which included whole fish, duck liver, some things I didn't ask about and enough wine to sink a ship, Mr. Ji and I kept toasting each other. He liked the Oregon book and was delighted to find that I had grown up in Napa, California. His dream was to make the Penglai region the Napa of China. Gambei (Chinese for bottoms up). And he kept saying that I really knew the vineyard. He also liked the Oregon Pinot noir I had brought.

Please note that the sun rises in Shandong Province about 4:30, that's 4:30 in the morning. So like an idiot photographer, I'm out there every morning, hoping that it is raining so I can go back to sleep.

The next night, after a more casual outdoor BBQ dinner, Ms. Lin invites me to a secret entertainment room downstairs. The walls are covered with massive flat panel screens all showing videos. Colored lights flash to the beat of loud music. It's karaoke time. On the ring of couches sit the Penglai mayor, regional Communist Party chief and two handfulls of other dignitaries. I'm not a real party guy, but had read that this is the way business is done here. After dancing with Ms. Lin and her daughter, I was invited to sing. No way. My wife laughs when I sing and I've had only one-half glass of beer. Hands pushed me out onto the floor. Fortunately, they paired me with Ms. Lin, who sings like a nightingale. I just hoped that the dignitaries were impressed that I was sober enough to help them out to their black limos.

Fortunately, I didn't take any photographs at the karaoke event.

Dinner meeting with Penglai Winery Association Director, Mr. Ji (center with blue and gray shirt) at Chateau Junding. I keep worrying about gaining weight on this trip.

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