Wine's Orient Express

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A chat with China's top wine dealer 

Robert Yang is a Chinese wine success story—the self-made man who brought the chain wine shop to the world's most populous country.

For nearly 20 years, the former hotel manager rode China's wave of thirst for Western wine & spirits, by becoming a distributor, retailer, Internet impresario and direct importer. His company called 1919 (a Chinese word play for "I want wine. I want wine.") has grown from one store in Sichuan Province's capital Chengdu in 2005 to a network of 1,000 shops in 600 cities with annual sales expected to top $2 billion this year. 

"Ten to 20 years ago, imported wine and liquor were luxury products in China," says Yang, 43, one evening at a cafe in Verona, where earlier this month he helped launch this year's Italian wines trade extravaganza, Vinitaly. "Now almost everybody can drink affordable wine." 

So, how did Yang get started? What drew him to wine? Don't expect a reflective answer about love for Burgundy or Barolo, though those are some of Yang's favorites (along with Prosecco and Australian Sauvignon Blanc). 

"Initially I just wanted to be rich and have a good life," says Yang. "Wine brings a lot of happiness and fortune." Read the full blog at winespectator.com (free)