Honey Tsang

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA -

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

Cross-bor­der trade

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.

Sur­prise vin­tages

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.

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