The growth of the wine market in Hong Kong and mainland China is something of a phenomenon. Here we profile one of Hong Kong’s leading distributors to discover how they’ve contributed to and adapted to meet the demands of the boom years.
Although recent surveys report that wine consumption in France is at an all-time low, the same can’t be said for Hong Kong. At last count, there were over 3,000 wine sellers in the city, and the high, bottom and middle ends of the market are all booming.
When it comes to buying quality and value in this city – of anything – it’s often better to go straight to the source, whether that means buying your vegetables from an organic supplier in the New Territories or schlepping to Kowloon’s flower market for the freshest blooms at reasonable prices. The same can be said for wine.
One such source for wine is Jebsen Fine Wines, which launched in Hong Kong more than 20 years ago. It’s an offshoot of Jebsen, the Hong Kong-based trading house established in 1895, responsible for bringing quality brands such as Porsche, Raymond Weil, Pentax, Dyson, Bombay Sapphire and Blue Girl Beer to the Hong Kong consumer.
The difference between Jebsen Fine Wines and the thousands of other wine companies in the city is that it is the exclusive trade distributor of many of the most popular wines drunk in Hong Kong. This means it supplies many of the retailers where you are currently buying. It also means that Jebsen controls the retail prices. So, going straight to them as a consumer means you can be guaranteed quality and prices comparable, and sometimes lower than buying at your local supermarket.
The other plus is that, as a well-established trading company, Jebsen is also expert in the field of logistics and storage, boasting one of the only wine storage facilities in the city that is certified by the HKQAA. With this, clients can be assured that their wine is transported and stored in optimum conditions (rather than, perhaps, a Soho walk up in 40-degree heat).
Like all the brands that the Jebsen group chooses to distribute, it represents only quality. In the case of wine, that means primarily family-owned businesses. Key brands include Bollinger, Penfolds, Mouton Cadet, Wynns and Robert Mondavi.
Marco Vazquez is Jebsen’s Fine Wine Manager. As a former sommelier and food and beverage manager in luxury hotels, he’s well qualified to advise his customers on their wine choices. When he joined the company over four years ago, one of his roles was to launch the Jebsen Fine Club and expand the Grand Cru side of the business. As a result of his and the team’s efforts and knowledge, Jebsen now represents many of the leading chateaux and best vintages of the Bordeux region, along with some of the most collectible wines of Burgundy, the Rhône Valley, Italy, Spain and California.
The Fine Wine Club now represents a growing sector of the business with regular customers appreciating Jebsen’s quality and knowledge of the premium sector. As well as being kept regularly updated with market news, members also get invited to exclusive tastings and seminars, which are becoming something of a Hong Kong hot ticket. Examples have included blind tastings of first growths in the company of Master of Wine, Mark de Vere, Bollinger wine and food pairing at Pierre in the Mandarin or exclusive dinners in the company of Penfold’s chief winemaker at a private address on The Peak.
Although Jebsen’s catalogue includes HK$23,000 bottles, Marco also tries to cater for the ever-expanding bottom and middle market with a carefully chosen collection of what he terms “more economically friendly” wines. So a lot of the wines that Jebsen carries in the $70 to $200 price range come from vineyards that the company has bought a stake in in recent years or even owns outright. One example is Twinwoods in Margaret River, described as a young but rising star in the region, producing everything from Chardonnay to Shiraz at under $200 a bottle. Its 2010 Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon were both silver-medal winners at the recent inaugural Decanter Asia Wine Awards.
The appeal of Jebsen to its longstanding private clients is that the company offers knowledge, diversity, quality, value and personal service, whether you’re looking for a Wednesday-night Sauv Blanc quaffer or a highly collectible Bordeaux.