"Made in Hong Kong" wine hopes to please Asian palates

HONG KONG Tue Jun 9, 2009 4:37pm EDT

A journalist tastes wine at the Eighth Estate Winery in Hong Kong May 22, 2009. REUTERS/Aaron Tam

A journalist tastes wine at the Eighth Estate Winery in Hong Kong May 22, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Aaron Tam

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HONG KONG (Reuters Life!) - It's got no vineyards of its own, but a new winery hopes its "Made In Hong Kong" label will make a mark on the growing Asian wine market.

The 8th Estate Winery has produced Hong Kong's first wine, using grapes that are shipped frozen from other countries.

The thawing, fermentation, aging and blending of the grapes takes place at the winery housed in a high-rise warehouse, which has just released its first batch of reds, whites and ice wines.

"There is an initial novelty value, a little bit of a shock seeing a bottle which says 'Product of Hong Kong' because there has never been a wine bottle that has said that before," winery director Lysanne Tusar told Reuters.

"We always label where our grapes came from and we are quite proud to say where the varieties are sourced," she added.

The winery's whites range from Sauvignon Blancs to Chardonnays. The reds include Merlots and Cabernet Sauvignons.

Tusar said all their grapes for 2007 came from Washington state in the United States. For 2008, the grapes were from Italy.

The 8th Estate has so far produced 100,000 bottles, of which 60,000 have been sold. The rest are being aged.

Since the wines are only distributed to local restaurants and hotels, the winery uses no sulfates or preservatives, which Tusar says gives the wine a distinctive flavor. Some fans agree.

"I think it's quite good. Maybe the texture of red wines from France would be more complicated," Charmane Lee, who attended a recent tasting of The 8th Estate wines.

WINE AMBITIONS

Wine consumption in China, and many countries in Asia not traditionally associated with drinking it, is growing fast, driven by the growing ranks of affluent, young and often Westernized professionals.

The winery says it has tweaked its wines in order to match the Chinese palate and compliment Chinese cuisine.

Last year, Hong Kong scrapped taxes on wines in a bid to position itself as Asia's wine hub.

Wine imports have since grown 83 percent year on year to HK$3 billion ($387.1 million), the city has signed wine pacts with countries including Spain and Hungary, and a slew of rare and fine wine auctions have been held.

While wine auctions by international houses such as Sotheby's, Christie's and Bonhams this year haven't matched pre-crisis levels, recent results have been surprisingly robust.

Two Hong Kong sales this year by leading U.S. wine merchant Acker Merrall & Condit uncorked $9.3 million in sales.

Tusar said Hong Kong's ambitions, part of the city's efforts to maintain its economy, were among the reasons The 8th Estate set up shop there in 2007.

"It was obvious that Hong Kong was positioning itself to be a global leader in the wine market," she said.

"The government is behind the wine industry. It's relatively easy to set up business here, the demographic and the population here love wine. It's becoming a daily beverage."

The wine industry estimates that total spending on table wine in Asian economies, excluding Japan, is around $7 billion, which accounts for about 7 percent of the global market.

The forecast for growth in Asia is 10-20 percent a year in the next five years, with China, Singapore, Korea and Taiwan leading the way.

(Editing by Miral Fahmy and James Pomfret)

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