Last week at Vinexpo Hong Kong was exhausting, excellent and illuminating.
It was the fourth time that Vinexpo Asia-Pacific had taken place in Hong Kong, and received nearly 900 exhibitors from over 32 countries (with no doubt that France was the major presence, and Bordeaux the majority of that). Around 12,000 people visited the wine fair over three days, an increase of around 40% since Vinexpo Hong Kong 2008. Of the visitors, 42% of the visitors were from Hong Kong and Macao, 58% from the rest of Asia, primarily China, then Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Singapore.
It was also the first time that I had been back in Hong Kong since I left in 1997, after three years living there. It had exactly the same energy and buzz, even if it had grown a little, with the new airport, new bridges, new exhibition centre and lots more reclaimed land and building work going on in the harbour.
The exibition was fascinating (I was there for two of the three days, as on one day I visited Crown Cellars wine storage, and met up with a few wine collectors for interviews). In Asia, wine consumption is growing four times faster than the world average (this comes from a fairly robust base aswell, as the same region already consumers just over 50% of the world's spirits), and at times the stands were like rugby scrums, with lines of people waiting to taste. One of my favourite tastings was of Grace Winery in Shanxi Provinc, China, where I interviewed the Australian winemaker and tasted eight wines from their (ever-increasing) range - the Chairman's Reserve was particularly good. They are currently constructing a new winery which promises to be their flagship, with vast wine tourism facilities, and this is a company which looks likely to produce some of the first cult Chinese wines. I also learnt how tough it is to make wine there - in winter, temperatures drop so low that they have to cover not just the feet of the vine (as they do in Bordeaux), but the entire vine plant, that is covered up by hand with earth by workers who are using shovels. The Grace estate in Shanxi has over 150 hectares of vines, and has 500 farmers each working a few rows of vines. These farmers are based in four villages located around the estate, and the wine director has to manage each of them, getting them to follow a quality charter for grape cultivation and harvest. www.grace-vineyard.com
Other than that, one of the most striking lessons from the week was how at almost every stand, no matter what the wine or region, the conversation would turn back to Bordeaux and 2009 pricing. I guess it goes without saying that the producers who travelled out there will have been pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm for this vintage, and I am betting that this week plenty of them get carried away with their pricing 'strategies'.