REMEMBER, THOUGH, that numbers and alcohol don't mix. If all you knew was that Chinese buyers were ponying up big money for top wines and that other Chinese consumers, like Fu, were behind a market that's growing by 13 percent or more per year, you'd figure that it wouldn't be long before people throughout China would be sitting at their dinner tables, swirling, sniffing, sipping, and savoring wines from all over the world. But there's a long way to go and a lot of very elemental work that must be done before that happens. "Chinese consumers regularly purchase wine as gifts and buy wine when they are entertaining important customers or officials in restaurants," says ASC's St. Pierre. "But they are not necessarily buying a bottle of wine for dinner at home with family. At the moment, that is the major cultural challenge we face."

Not to be deterred, ASC, whose sales are already growing by more than 50 percent a year, employs six full-time wine educators among its 400-person workforce. The educators fan out across China and train everyone about wine - from individuals who are considering changing their home drinking habits to restaurant waiters who need to learn how to use a corkscrew, a device they may not have seen before.

The funny thing about that is, while the rest of the wine world starts moving toward adopting modern enclosures like screw caps, the Chinese actually prefer corks. That's good news for winemakers.

Patrick Hughes, a Seattle resident who’s worked for Montrose, another importer distributor in China, says he discovered that even Chinese consumers who weren’t initially sold on wine for its taste seemed to enjoy it for its ceremony. Hughes worked last year at Montrose’s flagship retail wineshop, in Beijing, which was laid out not by country and appellation, as are most U.S. wine stores, but by occasion — with birthday wines in one aisle, business wines in another, romantic-occasion wines in another, and so on. He says he saw plenty of “wrinkled-up watched very intently and inquisitively. She asked if she could give the corkscrew a whirl and open a bottle herself. She struggled initially, but then pulled out the cork. She was so happy to pour her first glass from a bottle she had opened all by herself.” noses and puckered lips” after Chinese customers took their first-ever sips of wine but that he also noticed that “the intricacies of all that goes with the world of wine seemed to be very appealing to the Chinese.”

Like, for instance, that cork thing. “One of my favorite memories is of opening a bottle of Francis Ford Coppola Zinfandel,” Hughes says. watched very intently and inquisitively. She asked if she could give the corkscrew a whirl and open a bottle herself. She struggled initially, but then pulled out the cork. She was so happy to pour her first glass from a bottle she had opened all by herself.”