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Dave Tyney is owner of Cirro Wines, and consulting winemaker with Viscosity Ltd. He lives in Marlborough, but works throughout Asia, playing a key role in building up China’s premium wine-growing industry in Ningxia.

Dave Tyney’s Mandarin-speaking journey began with the desire to be able to better order beer with his dumplings.

He was visiting his parents, who were then teaching in Beijing nearly 10 years ago, and started picking up words and phrases by being immersed in the language.

“I was having trouble ordering beer with my dumplings.”

He learned through immersion and the odd phone app, never taking a course.

“It was initially about food, greetings, and directions. Then it became more about the work-related benefits and the cultural benefits of being able to speak Mandarin.”

Dave became a winemaker, and in 2014, entered the inaugural Ningxia International Winemakers’ Challenge, where winemakers from around the world competed to make the best wine from grapes grown in Ningxia, the far north of China, where China has based its premium wine-growing region. He won both the white and red sections of the challenge, and has been in demand as a consultant winemaker, making several trips to China each year for months at a time, pre-COVID.

Having Mandarin language skills makes business opportunities more fluid, he says.

“There’s a different tone when it goes through a translator. When it comes from yourself, it strengthens the relationship between you and a client, even if it’s small things.”

Dave says business is different in China.

“What happens outside the workplace is also important - dinners, events. Having the ability to converse, even a little bit, is reassuring. It gives more confidence.”

Mandarin is one of the core languages of the world going forward, he says.

“If you’re interested in China, Asia, or international business, then a few key words will bring you closer to potentially understanding future clients and endeavours.

“Chinese people and the culture there think about things more deeply than Kiwis, They will find a meaning behind a small task, or a small saying, or a small picture. Kiwi culture can be more simplistic. We downplay things.”

Dave admires the Chinese history of the country, the people, and the regions.

“It can be vastly different between regions in respect of food and landscape, but the people hold the same core values.”

One of the most rewarding things about learning Mandarin, Dave says, has been helping other foreigners with their Mandarin, “which I didn’t think was possible”.

He encourages others to learn the language.

“Don’t be afraid to try. Open your mouth and make a noise.”

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