After starting with a welcoming glass of sparkling wine, Kevin Davy and his first-time clients were set to embark on a vinous adventure. They sipped and reveled in glasses of wine poured from carefully chosen bottles. Davy, a sommelier-cum-wine educator, paired the drinks immaculately with nibbles.
This is when the camaraderie between a wine educator and his students tends to gel — no notes or chalkboard, just banter. Through convivial conversation, the 28-year-old French national imparted knowledge to his students. However, they were not in a classroom, but a client’s living room.
In recent years, a new type of door-to-door wine education service has sprung up in Hong Kong, offering a fresh way for the city’s wine lovers to understand and better enjoy wines in the comfort of their own homes.
“Most learners are shy. They’re often too intimidated to ask basic questions in front of strangers,” said Davy, who worked as a professional wine educator in the French region of Provence before moving to Hong Kong. “When they learn at home, they are all just friends and are always happy to ask questions.”
This relatively soft approach to teaching people how to appreciate wine works particularly well with wine lovers who plan on exploring more but feel thwarted by the trappings of traditional wine schools.
Davy’s venture, Sommelier at Home — which he set up in Hong Kong in 2014 — has borne fruit. He’s built a broad clientele, ranging from beginners to regular wine consumers, and even oenophiles, a rather fancy term for wine lovers.
He attributes the success of his business to the locals’ zeal for quality wines coupled with a growing thirst for advanced knowledge. He understands that the city’s wine drinkers, at all levels, are now more eager to burnish their knowledge of wine as they strive to become smarter consumers.
You won’t see another city like Hong Kong, which ... abounds with wine enthusiasts with an overwhelming focus on premium wines.” Paulo Pong Kin-yee, founder of Altaya Group
This smart-drinking attitude in Hong Kong’s wine scene is also trickling across the border and seeping into the soil of the Chinese mainland.
Davy is in great demand among mainland wine buffs. In recent years, he’s been invited by businesses in Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, to provide wine-tasting workshops for their staff members.
“These learners aren’t looking for sommelier certificates or diplomas,” he said. “They come to me simply as wine lovers who want to understand what they like and why they like it, so they can buy the right affordable wines that match their own tastes and values.”
With demand for mid-range wines growing, the mainland is forecast to overtake the United Kingdom and France by 2020 to become the world’s second-biggest consumer after the United States. Wine consumption on the mainland is projected to soar to nearly $22 billion by 2020, up 40 percent from $15.5 billion last year, according to estimates from International Wine & Spirits Research.
The rising volume represents a real and growing appetite for the beverage among mainland drinkers, notwithstanding the rising trend of wine being bought as business gifts amid the government’s clampdown on corruption.
Though the majority of mainland drinkers are less wine-savvy than those in Hong Kong, “they are more eager to learn, and they tend to learn faster”, Davy said.
According to Song Haiyan, associate dean of the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University who oversees a nascent program called Master of Science in International Wine Management, the mainland’s rising appetite for quality wines has been driven by a growing middle class, most of whom are millennials who rarely pennypinch on lifestyle goods.
Relatively speaking, these mainland millennials are fussier than Generation X. They’re better adapted to global wine trends, and, unlike their par- ents’ generation, aren’t content with mediocre wines, he said.
In addition to providing courses about basic wine knowledge and drinking etiquette, Davy also offers a personalized sommelier service. His duties include bringing in superb bottles from famous vineyards that will complement the food his clients prepare at home.
He said he is astonished at how wine-savvy his clients are. “Many wine enthusiasts in Hong Kong are accustomed to the taste of high-priced wines,” he said. “They always ask me to
Kevin Davy (right) with some of his students during a wine-tasting evening in Hong Kong.