August 5, 2010

A Curious Sweat Shop

I was recently lured out of the Lab to attend a local wine event that promised fine wines, vintage cars, diamond jewelry and an ex-Miss Hong Kong.

This seemed to be all the necessary ingredients for a quintessential Far East wine outing.

The invitation failed to mention that the event would be held in a garage in Kwun Tong, an industrial section of Kowloon, and that the temperature inside would be well over 90° F (32+ °C) even at 9 o'clock at night. Also not detailed on the invitation was the reality that the last bottle of white wine would be already half gone when we arrived. Or that the ex-Miss Hong Kong was actually an ex-Miss Canada. Or someone claiming to be an ex-Miss Canada. I searched "Miss Canada" on Google and fruitlessly scrolled through 20 pages of images in failed hopes I might find her.

Curious editorial aside: the search did return a picture of Robert Redford, one of an alpaca and this shot of a scary looking dude who would seem, at a glance, to have little to do with Miss Canada.

The part about the vintage cars was as advertised.

If I were a practitioner of understatement, I would say it was a curious event.

It was at least that.

The diamond jewelry was provided by a man who practices an orthodox formulation of Judaism, so roughly 1/3 of the sweat-drenched crowd wore yarmulkes. I'm sure it was the heat in the garage, but I had flashes back to my childhood when my buddy Howard Goldstein was bar mitzvah'd on a scorching July day in Arizona.

Another third of the crowd seemed to be photographers; the alleged ex-Miss Canada must have a sensational publicist to get a throng of paparazzi out in the late night Kowloon swelter.

The wines were provided by Altruistic Boutique Wines, a Hong Kong / Beijing based wine importer who seem keen to give a portion of their profits away to charitable organizations. The company's Managing Director, Rai Cockfield, was pouring the wines, or what was left of them, himself. He's an ex-Lehman Brothers banker who has left finance to chase Dionysus. He and his partner have assembled a very good list of small, mostly California, producers. I'm not sure what's the point of marrying philanthropy and wine sales. But the philanthropy as marketing seemed one of the least random details of the evening, so I let it pass without debate. Besides I didn't work at Lehman, so I have less to atone for.

He poured me a taste from the dregs of the final bottle of white wine. The 2007 8 Chardonnay from Vineyard 7&8. It was... curious. And gratifyingly cold.
Vineyard 7&8 is a boutique, ineptly-named winery in Northern California. The Chardonnay had nice cut on the attack, but way too much new French Oak everywhere else.

A check on the winery website leads me to believe, the owners are in fact Thurston Howell III and his wife, Lovey. They have outsourced both the viticulture and the wine-making, being one of several wineries to have have employed Luc Morlet since he left his illustrious post as wine-maker at the illustrious Peter Michael Winery. Morlet recently announced his own private label, so the skeptic in me thinks the Howells will soon be needing new staff. I'm sure the Professor could figure out how to stop malolactic fermentation before the wine became indistinguishable from a dairy product.

I couldn't bear to drink the red, a Cabernet Sauvignon also from California, in the dense, humid heat of the garage.

So instead I wandered around, dodging photographers and grease-jockeys, wondering about the tax advantages that were no doubt realized by pretending your antique car collection was a working garage.
Perhaps that's unfair.

Maybe it's not a tax-hedge?

Maybe the cars are merely a Hong Kong financier's indulgence to one of his many elaborate hobbies. A list which would seem to include not only vintage cars, but also diamond jewelry, culty New World wines and...

the Miss Universe pageant.


CabFrancoPhile said...

"Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange." Reading this blog entry made me feel like I was in the extended cut of a Christopher Nolan blockbuster. Miss Canada? Collectible cars? A small army of paparazzi? It seems like there should be ninjas bursting through the ceiling at any point to kidnap you!

Great read.

Director, Lab Outreach said...

Ni hao.

A seriously far-fetched adventure. Ninjas would not have been out of place at this event. I struggled even to write about it (prose is a little clunky as a result).

Thanks for stopping by.