As well as being the centre of the wine business for the Asian region, Hong Kong is also a hotbed of winemaking and marketing innovation.
The 8th Estate Winery, located in the warehouse precinct of Aberdeen on the southern edge of Hong Kong island, was the city state’s first winery.
Its winemaking approach is unique: Vintners travel the world to source the best grapes from each region – shiraz and grenache from McLaren Vale in Australia, merlot and cabernet franc from Bordeaux, sangiovese from Tuscany and nebbiolo from Piedmont in Italy.
Grapes are flash frozen straight after being harvested before being shipped to Hong Kong.
Lysanne Tusar, the winery’s director and chief marketing officer, said flash freezing preserved grapes at their peak condition.
The frozen grapes thaw at the winery as a flying winemaker arrives from the same region as the grapes. Production begins as it would in any boutique winery in the world, and the wine then ages in French and American oak barriques.
“Our concept is simple,” Tusar, a Canadian, said. “Source the best ingredients and make the best wine. We have done this by creating something no one else has in Asia – a fully functional urban winery.
“By importing international wine making talent along with exceptional grapes, our formula produces spectacular wine.”
Tusar said each barrel was monitored and blended by the master vintner. “Our limited production volumes ensure that the wines receive individual attention.”
To date, The 8th Estate Winery has only entered four wines in shows and all have won medals. The 2010 shiraz won a bronze at last year’s Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition. The 2010 viognier won silver at last year’s Shanghai International Wine Challenge, the 2010 grenache got a bronze at the same event, where the 2010 shiraz viognier won a silver medal.
Tusar has been appointed an ambassador for InvestHK, the investment arm of the Hong Kong government. She also sits on the academic committee for the MBA in wine marketing that the University of Hong Kong launched last year – the first in the region.
The winery also has 4,000 square feet of venue space, including an outdoor terrace overlooking the ocean. In crowded Hong Kong this amount of space is rare and The 8th Estate uses it for corporate events, cocktail receptions, banquets and wine tasting events.
Eddie McDougall, known as Hong Kong’s Flying Winemaker, made the 2010 shiraz at The 8th Estate Winery. He believes frozen grapes can make good wine.
“Great restaurants like Robuchon serve meat that has been snap frozen overseas and brought into Hong Kong. The food the restaurant creates is still wonderful. I think the same thing applies with frozen grapes.”
McDougall was born in Hong Kong but trained as a winemaker in Australia. He has a vineyard in the King Valley region of Australia.
He created his first label, UMAMI Wines of Australia, in 2007 to focus on small batch production of only the best vintages. Australia’s most influential wine critic, James Halliday, has consistently given McDougall’s wines scores of 90+ points. In 2011 McDougall rebranded UMAMI Wines as Eddie McDougall, Fine Wines of Australia.
McDougall’s Flying Winemaker shop in central Hong Kong is the focus point of his activities (http://eddiemcdougall.com/).
There he teaches the art of blending – the walls of his shop lined with beakers and other scientific apparatus – with the aim of demystifying winemaking.
McDougall’s approach to wine education is innovative. He offers classes with quirky names: Tongue Explorer covers how a person’s palate appreciates wine, while WineSkook 101 and WineSkool Chic are about, respectively, how wine flows from the vine to the dinner table and the “coolest and trendiest wines on the market”.
He sells wines from a range of unusual locations such as relatively obscure vineyards in Lebanon. “I don’t sell French wine in Hong Kong because everyone else does,” he said with a smile.
The Portrait Winemakers & Distillers company makes distinctive wines and spirits in Hong Kong for the mainland China market. Labels are bright and flirty. Examples can be found at the web site: http://www.portraitwinery.com/
These wines are obviously marketed at men because all the four labels feature scantily-clad women in athletic poses. The Farmgirl Rose, for example, shows a healthy woman in shorts and roller skates. The rose is made from syrah.
The label on the Debutante Melange has a blonde woman in a white dress and white lace stockings that reveal a flash of thigh. The wine is a blend of pinot gris, semillon, viognier and sauvignon blanc from three Oregon vineyards.
Sadly, the company’s web site is littered with spelling errors: “tempurature controlled stainless steel tanks”, and a winemaking team that “can gurantee the world’s finest vinifera grapes” which aims “to produce a range of Grand Cru style wines, known for their excellence and agebility.”
They may not be able to spell but their wine labels are certainly eye-catching.
Elsewhere in Hong Kong, the Must Custom Winery, which has a central city tasting room as well as a wine-making facility in the suburbs, imports must rather than frozen grapes.
The company makes wine from the must for special events. Output tends to be small, such as two or three dozen for a wedding or corporate gathering. The company modifies the label and cap to suit the client, noting on its web site that these things can be “customized to match the dress in a wedding or the colours used in any celebration”.
One wine critic who asked not to be named said the process was “like a cooking lesson. You put the yeast in the juice and pick up the wine in a week or so”. She described the model as “a good entertaining business”.
Details can be found at http://www.mustwine.com.hk/index.php
The company’s home page has an introductory video where the presenter, who speaks so quickly it is difficult to recognize his name, says the company can modify wines to suit individual tastes: “… the amount of sweetness, oak and flavours can be modified to suit the taste of the customer”.
One offering that caught my eye was the “Winemaking + Dating x2” course. It consists of two hours of winemaking instruction followed by a separate two hours focusing on designing labels and bottling.
“The second date is guaranteed for bottling of the finished wine,” the company said.