29 Oct 2009
Through the Grapevine
Wine tastings at the warehouse winery take place amid hundreds of oak barrels, which hold the company's future vintages
“There is so much art and love and time that go into that really good bottle of wine. That’s such a good thing about wine. It’s wonderful to consume a nice beverage, but also to show everything that goes into wine and the years building up to it,” she says.
“We can do that here,” Ms Tusar adds, gesturing around the warehouse space on the south side of Hong Kong Island, home to 8th Estate Winery. Many are surprised to learn that semi-tropical Hong Kong now has its first and only urban winery. Though the company does very little advertising, its weekend tastings are well attended.
“Wine, in general, is becoming a daily beverage. The people here seem to be getting more into wine and consuming it more frequently, and interest is growing,” says Ms Tusar.
|Bill Lo, Facilities Manager at the 8th Estate Winery, inspects labels while bottling Gewürztraminer at the winery|
“After fermentation, they go straight into pressing. Then there is more fermenting and aging. And that process is like any winery in the world, just on a different scale and in a different location,” explains Ms Tusar.
The wines are all created by a small staff, including Facilities Manager Bill Lo, who handles much of the bottling and labeling. Mr Lo recalls being surprised when, a year ago, he was offered a job at a winery – in Hong Kong.
Wine Hub on a Roll
The company may soon need extra hands. Wine consumption in Hong Kong and on the Chinese mainland is booming, as the young and affluent develop a taste for the beverage. A further catalyst came last year when the Hong Kong Government scrapped wine duties, sending imports soaring by more than 80 per cent, year-on-year.
Hong Kong and the mainland now drink 60 per cent of all the wine consumed in Asia, and the region is soon to become the world’s eighth-largest wine consumer. The company’s investment in that future can be found in its next vintage, now maturing in hundreds of oak barrels.
Reflecting tradition found in many wine-country estates, the warehouse winery has stacked up the barrels in a space for wine tastings and parties. Such events build business among local consumers as well as overseas visitors, including those coming to the HKTDC Hong Kong International Wine and Spirits Fair, 4-6 November.
Grapes from Italy and Washington state are flash-frozen, then shipped to 8th Estate's wine-making facility in Hong Kong
To further ensure Asia’s newfound thirst does not die on the vine, 8th Estate is crafting varieties that complement local cuisines and tastes. The winery produces more than 100,000 bottles each year. Its reds include Merlot, Nebbiolo and Cabernet Sauvignon, along with five types of white, including a Gewürztraminer, and several varieties of dessert ice wines.
“Having a local winery in Hong Kong is unique and new to us,” says Clement Fung. He and his fiancé May Lau recently visited the winery for a tasting session, after reading about the fledgling label on the Internet. Now they plan to serve 8th Estate at their wedding banquet. “I think our guests will love it,” he says.
Founder Lysanne Tusar chose the number eight for luck, and for how it looked on the label design
“If you are able to consume wine at the site it was produced, it has not had the temperature changes, bruising or other elements that go into shipping a bottle of wine from one corner of the globe to the other.”
Ms Tusar also believes Hong Kong’s role as a trendsetter will go a long way towards helping the wine industry uncork new markets.
“I think a lot of Asia looks towards Hong Kong to lead the wine market, and I think it’s been brilliant that Hong Kong has established itself that way. What we’re doing here is just a drop in the bucket, because the potential is so great. We are small producers and just doing our thing, but it just goes to show that the future is very bright in the wine market in Asia.”