Its been two years now since Hong Kong abolished its wine tariffs and since then every single day, we see something in the news about how incredible the wine market is here. We felt that in Toronto and now being in Hong Kong – you’d have to be illiterate to not read about how hot it is. Its exciting times to be part of the wine trade in Asia, it’s like the gold rush of the 1840s in America, Hong Kong is the wild Wild East of wine.
The ports are busy, opportunities abound and ambitious new merchants are popping up all over. There’s an electric frenzy. New world records are broken at auctions like the recent Acker Merrall & Condit event that was held a few weeks ago, where a wine collector from Hong Kong paid the highest ever for a vertical of Chateau Lafites dating from 1799 to 2003. Hong Kong is touted as the most important wine market now overtaking New York.
Is the frenzy irrational? Is it sustainable you ask? What is it like for small merchants like us? And most importantly what does this mean for me, the consumer?
Hong Kong by way of China is the market to watch for due to sheer volumes of people, their increasing wallet size and appetites for all luxury goods combined with the government’s incentives set in place to support the market. However unless you’re pure Auctioneers or Bordeaux traders being wine merchants here is not as simple as trading gold. This is not an easy market and the rush of vendors into the Chinese market by way of Hong Kong should know that these are also two very different market areas with different levels of maturity and shopping habits.
Two challenges universal to them both:
First, Chinese people don’t have a culture of drinking alcohol with their meals. We’re not like the Japanese who set their tables with a cup for sake or a glass for beer. Chinese women are taking up wine classes in droves and are passing with flying colours but its all rote learning since most of them don’t practice the most important part of wine culture – tasting. Why don’t they drink you say? Part of the reason might stem from the way Chinese meals are served with multiple dishes and varying flavours in one family seating. Any alcohol served would traditionally be rice wine which is very mild in its flavours with minimal acidity to support the varied palate. Another part may be due to the cultural belief that drinking should come after eating not alongside it because in Chinese Medicine this is attributed to indigestion. This is also why if there is any drink served with a Chinese meal its tea – widely known as a digestif.
Secondly and this perhaps not so much of a challenge as a good problem to have as merchants like us is that people here seem to be drinking from the top down in terms of branded wines. I’m not talking about the Yellow Tails, we’re talking about the Lafites, Latours & Margaux. So as Americans have been selling off their recessionary wines the Chinese have been buying. But do they really get what they’re buying? If you’re in the wine business more for the Business side of things, you might say who cares? But if you’re a boutique merchant like us, then this is of concern because at the core the Chinese market’s desire for the best wines is the quest for an authentic experience of wine culture. We get that and we want to further it. This is why we have a list laden with the most well known fine wines of the world but we’re also dedicated to having the interesting oddities and rare gems to amount to what we think is a well edited assortment of wines. We hope to satisfy this region’s frenzied thirst for wine and slowly, patiently help it develop its own authentic wine culture in itself.