Changing styles in Hong Kong wines

Changing styles in Hong Kong wines – Brief Article

Kevin Sinclair

A couple of young people walk through head-high racks of wine in a Hong Kong supermarket. They’re in charge of buying the drinks for a weekend barbecue party. what goes well with cooked chicken on a hot summer night?

Not that, says Randy Lee, taking the half-dozen bottles of heavy Bordeaux they had put in their shopping cart. Try this, he says. And this, And this.

Lee, an engaging hands-on executive, is chief trader and wine buyer for the large supermarket firm of Park’nShop. He’s also one of the key wine educators in Hong Kong; he believes retailers have a duty not only to sell wine, but to explain it in a society where wine is a popular novelty.

On a Friday night, Lee pops into one of the largest shops in the chain to see what people are buying. Those two party-goers ended up with a young Californian Chardonnay and some Australian Merlot.

“You’ve got to guide people,” Lee maintains. “People in Hong Kong love wine, but they don’t know much about it.

He’s changing that. When Randy Lee was studying marketing in Ottawa, one of his French-speaking professors opened a bottle of wine in the classroom, told

the students to sniff and sip and then asked how they would sell the product.

More than 20 years later, the man in charge of stocking the shelves of all 154 Park’nShops with beer, spirits, soft drinks and wine remembers that early lesson. He tries to pass his enthusiasm for good, reasonably priced wines to customers, seeking quality wines that bracket all budgets. No matter the price, however, it must be fit to drink by the more sophisticated new generation of wine lovers.

Every week, Park’nShops sell 2.3 million bottles of wine at an average price of US$7.70. Put another way, of all wine imported into Hong Kong, the supermarket chain sells a third.

Wine consumption is soaring and Randy Lee tries to steer these young enthusiasts towards exciting vintages at prices they can afford.

That means he explores New World wines. For 10 years, Hongkongers have preferred red wines, and still do. Eight out of every 10 bottles are reds. But there has been a very significant swing away from the traditional insistence on French vintages, in both the very expensive and very cheap ends of the market. Today, Lee says, the focus is on the middle, where people want reasonable quality, good prices and an easy-drinking wine.

That’s why France is losing its overall market share, and why Australia, Chile, California and other New World markets and Italy are carving a larger slice.

“I regard Australia as the masters of producing a really good wine at a really fair price,” he adds. “Then come Chile and California.”

Lee encourages this trend by a range of promotions, special offers and contests. He thinks training supermarket staff to have a basic wine knowledge is important. He likes wines that have simple labels that consumers can understand.

“In the 198 Os, if you wanted to buy a bottle of wine in Hong Kong, you went to a wine shop,” he recalls. “Now, you come to us.”

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