Yarra Valley images of kangaroos on fire hopping down the road while flaming koalas drop from burning eucalyptus trees as 5% of the appellation’s vineyards go up in flames may have been spared Stellenbosch producers who lost vineyards to the ongoing bush fires over the past weeks but the future has never looked as bleak as it does now.
Sticking with carbon, if footprints and carbon kilometres do not curtail export sales then subtle and not so subtle protectionism may do for exports to North America, Europe and even Australia. But the biggest blow by far is the news that researchers at the University of Oxford have concluded from a Million Women Study that “even small amounts of alcohol increase a woman’s risk of cancer.” With British women famous devotees of Bacchus, the news is a sucker punch, arriving hot on the heels of advice from the French government not to drink wine.
After a week spent eating and drinking very well in Hong Kong, I am left with more questions than answers.
Eight is such an auspicious number for Chinese people that on 8/8/88 the lights in the newsroom of the South China Morning Post were dimmed and platters of chopped up suckling pig were carried in for a celebration. Allowing rookie Canadian journo Ross Meder (now turned Australian wine importer) to remember his arrival in the “fragrant harbor” of Hong Kong with a happy event. So if you’re going to produce a list of wine mysteries of the East, there should surely be eight.
David Roberts is a (not so) little Aussie battler who’s been selling wine in Aberdeen, Hong Kong, for the past four years. Aberdeen in Asia is about as far as you can get from the gateway to Speyside. Which could explain why David doesn’t mess around selling whisky at Horizon Cellars. On the subject of the Hong Kong wine market, he is remarkably candid.
Earlier this week aging Goth Robert Smith from The Cure was hailed a “Godlike Genius” by NME magazine. Simon Tam, director of the Independent Wine Centre in Sheung Wan (Hong Kong) and wine adviser to several Asian pop stars, claims the same for Meerlust winemaker Chris Williams. Simon started off calling him “God” before launching on an even more hyperbolic trajectory, comparing Chris to “a young Brian Croser” on the evidence of his miraculous Foundry Syrah.
Some years ago I interviewed SA retail royalty Christo Wiese (of Pep Stores and Shoprite-Checkers fame) and asked him how to sell SA wine in the UK. “Someone should start The SA Wine Shop in St. James and stock it with SA icons. I’d even be willing to part-fund it if my wine was included.” Canadian journalist Ross Meder had the same idea and on June 1 2007 opened Margaret River for Asia, a boutique wine retailer on St. Francis Street in Wanchai, central Hong Kong, across the road from upscale French wine emporium les Q and a Chicken Pot shop that sells chicken in a pot.
Watson’s Wine Cellar around the corner from the Yung Kee restaurant in Hong Kong Central is an oenophile’s wet dream: serried rows of Bordeaux first growths, Pétrus (HK$42 000 for the ’69) and DRC delights (La Tâche ’42 a snip at HK$ 39 000, Romanée-Conti ’04 HK$ 73 000 = R96 000) by the shelf-full. Vinous pornography at it’s most hard core perhaps, but we’re all consenting adults, so what harm is done?
As importer Michael Fridjhon remarked, these prices are remarkable and the selection (including a Catholic array of second labels), ditto. With corkage charged at HK$100 a bottle, Yung Kee patrons are well advised to BYO. Although restaurant mark-ups seem modest (around 25% above retail, in stark contrast to rip-off levels in SA) increased selection is the main reason to BYO.
Hong Kong is self-evidently the capital of Bordeaux. Nick Pegna, MD of Berry Bros. & Rudd, reports that claret accounts for 75% of sales while the all-singing, all-dancing Pacific Place shopping centre in the upscale Admiralty district of Central is festooned with more tricolors than the Champs-Élysées, there being a major promotion of French foodstuffs on the go at the minute.
Hong Kong has signed a memorandum of understanding with Bordeaux with regard to establishing the Asian Tiger as a wine hub for the region and Daniel Lam, manager of the wine department at Bonhams Auctioneers, confirms that a bottle of 1945 vintage Château Mouton is the ne plus ultra present for a business partner in a society that has a culture of gifting at its core.
Nick Pegna is MD of Berry Bros. & Rudd Hong Kong and he’s not complaining – 40% per annum growth since the wine merchant to royalty opened up in Hong Kong eleven years ago. Business has been so good, he’s now 1/3 the size of the UK mother ship. Not bad for a business of 30 souls including two dozen Cantonese speakers (the up-market synonym for Chinese) one of whom is an agent in Shanghai who decants fine wine lovers down to HK for weekends of R&R. Business can’t be bad when you’ve Château Mouton 1945 in a display case for HK$ 248,000 (R323,000) per bottle.
Hurtling over Madagascar in a Cathay Pacific Boeing 747-400 reading Lucia van der Post on the subject of sniffa blogs in the How To Spend It supplement of the FT, I realized that winespeak has room for expansion. Sniffas, anoraques of the perfume counter, are perhaps the most etiolated expressions of a global cult that cut its teeth on garagistes and willfully obscure cuvées (pronounced coo-ves) from Napa before moving on to bespoke scent.