Hong Kong: the new center of the wine world?
Gone are the days when we could poke fun at the Chinese for mixing Petrus with Coke. Maybe some still do, but the Chinese are fast gaining a sophistication with all things wine, and the market is realizing that the future may well lie in East Asia.
Hong Kong is the epicenter for wine in China. Here in the States, we take wine festivals for granted, but in China, they’re new and exciting. Starting tomorrow (Oct. 30), the first-ever Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival, a multi-day event, launches, sponsored by the Hong Kong Tourism Board and American Express. Hong Kong’s wealthy collectors are increasingly turning to rare old bottles of wine as investments, which is pushing the price up for stalwarts like Lafite, Petrus and DRC; “Sotheby’s and Christie’s both said this month [October] that the southern Chinese city has overtaken New York and London as the world’s largest market for rare vintages.” Other auction houses are taking notice; Zachy’s, the big New York wine retailer, will conduct its “first ever Hong Kong Evening Sale” tomorrow and Saturday.
A top Hong Kong government minister, speaking at an Australian business roundtable two days ago, described Hong Kong’s “initiatives regarding the wine industry,” which are about “grasping opportunities when we see them, and we saw an opportunity to establish Hong Kong as a wine trading and distribution hub in Asia.” (Hong Kong abolished all duties on wine in 2008.) He added, “New storage facilities for wine have opened up; jobs have been created for sommeliers and wine imports and logistics have soared.” Hong Kong has been forging relationships with Australian producers, and just yesterday signed a new agreement with New Zealand to “strengthen cooperation in the promotion of wine-related trading, investment, tourism and education and in the fight against counterfeit wine.” (This last item is of interest given the ongoing problems of fake rarieties, so well described in The Billionaire’s Vinegar.)
And now, Hong Kong is set to launch Asia’s first world wine competition. On Nov. 4-6, the 2009 Hong Kong International Wine and Spirits Fair opens. It will follow the traditional pattern of awarding gold, silver and bronze medals to the world’s wines; judges include Hong Kong’s first M.W., among others. The fair will also go where no U.S. wine competition (to my knowledge) has gone: it will award trophies for best wine pairings with food, including abalone, dim sum, kung pao chicken and Peking duck.
And just today, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council is reporting on Hong Kong’s first winery, “which, from the inside, at least, resembles those found in Napa, Barossa, Tuscany or any other of the world’s major wine-growing regions.” The winery, called 8th Estate, makes Merlot, Nebbiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon and other varieties, from grapes flash-frozen and flown in from Italy and Washington State. The winery’s founder told the council, “Asia looks towards Hong Kong to lead the wine market, and I think it’s been brilliant that Hong Kong has established itself that way.”
It’s an exciting time to be a wine lover, or in the wine business, in Hong Kong.