October 5, 2010

Learning Curve

I'm going to tell you a little story about how wine gets done in Hong Kong.

First some backstory: I was in Australia not long ago where I met biodynamic vigneron David Ritchie. Ritchie's Delatite Winery is nestled at the base of the Mt Buller ski area and is an Australian version of an Alpine Winery. I don't think they're particularly well known beyond their immediate region (so far...) but I was served one of their sparkling Gewürztraminers (yes, Gewürztraminer) at a luncheon a few years ago. It was so precise, so unique and so utterly unexpected that I remember having to leave the table and sit with it in an out of the way corner for a brief spell.

When I met Ritchie, I asked him if he had a distributor in Hong Kong. He said he did, but they only brought in a few of his wines and none of the sparkling ones. I'm sure my expression was crestfallen, but then he said, "Although there is this guy..."

"This guy" turned out to be Alvis Kwan. David introduced me to him via e-mail. It turns out Alvis is a building engineer who specializes in ventilation and air-conditioning systems for commercial and large residential buildings. Alvis is also interested in wine. Alvis spent some time in Australia where he met someone who now manages wine sales for Delatite. So with a view towards an unspecific, future venture in the wine business, Alvis decided upon an experimental import of a pallet of Delatite wines. A pallet is roughly 56 cases.

He figured he'd sell them to his friends and the odd nut like me who showed up at his door. Maybe put them in a storefront he bought with his 401k. Or perhaps even sell them into the Mainland. He figured the only way you can figure out the wine business is by dipping your toe into 672 bottles -- a palate's worth.

In Hong Kong -- Tom Wark, are you listening? You'll like this part -- there is no 3-tier system. No divide between importer, distributor and retailer. And, as of 2008, no customs duty. If you're an HVAC engineer and you want to import a large quantity of wine, then you just do it.

How about that?

So I arranged to buy a case of sparkling wine and a case of white wines for the Lab, as well as a couple of cases of whites for a friend who grew up in view of Mt Buller.

I drove out myself to meet Alvis at his office in San Po Kong, an industrial section of Kowloon perhaps best known as the site of deadly riots that grew, with help from the Cultural Revolution, out of a non-violent workers' protest at an artificial flower factory in 1967.

I paid less for the wine than I might have paid had I bought them at the winery's cellar door because my only middle-man is a building engineer with an office in San Po Kong.


Lots said...

Aaah Dave, it is good to see you are enjoying the taste of the high country from the urban enviroment that is Hong Kong! I am sure Delatite is known world wide (they have a keen following in the UK) just like everything in Mansfield, and you would be very jealous that us locals get to celebrate with both the Polly and Demelza reguarly. Love your middle man and your yarns. xxx

Director, Lab Outreach said...

Just trying to make certain the Lab is well equiped with comforts from home for when you visit.

Starlionblue said...

That's because HK has the closest thing in the world to "pure" capitalism. A bit ironic considering the nature of our Beijing overlords.