Happy Chinese New Year of the Dog!
My gap year of making wine around the world has taken me from Northern to Southern hemisphere. Last week, I just finished sparkling wine (Méthode Cap Classique, MCC for short) harvest at Villiera Wines in Stellenbosch, South Africa and am now at Paul Cluver Wines in Elgin for still wine making.
The experience in the past few months has been invaluable. Winemaking is not about the winemaker alone but the entire team in the vineyard and cellar, and the philosophy/beliefs of the creators. It is hardly a glamours or highly profitable industry except perhaps for the cult brands. What motivate people going into, and staying in, the business are their passion for wine and care about the land and environment. Their passions are contagious and spread to the entire team. They may not all be making 5-stars wine but they are all committed to make wine that they believe in. True winemakers are farmers who respect and connect to the vineyards otherwise they will just be producers making wine as a commodity with no soul.
Perhaps this is the reason why the wine industry, unlike beer or whisky that are dominated by a few big players, is so fragmented with many labels—good news for consumers for the spoil of choice but bad news for wineries for trying to make themselves heard.
Hong Kong prides itself as a fine wine hub but sadly it lacks both diversity and real consumers. The industry only focuses on mainstream wine, connoisseurs brag about their ‘B’ trophies, consumers chase labels... Why do we only talk about Dom Pérignon with dim sum that can only be afforded by the privileged few? A MCC is equally good with dim sum and the enjoyment can be widely shared because of its accessibility. Our Financial Secretary Paul Chan happily said that of the 16 million litres of wine imported to Hong Kong 2016, about half was re-exported (Meininger’s article under the sub-title Business friendly). This translated to a mere 1.09 litre/capita for our population of over 7 million, what a joke! It’s time we demystify wine, break its luxury premium image, and enjoy wine for what it is without any nonsense. Good wine is affordable and comes in all styles from different regions.
I have been on the road for more than five months and am enjoying every moment of it. A few ideas on how to popularise wine are slowly hatching and I’m looking forward to sharing them with you. But first I need to press grapes and clean barrels in Australia (Maxwell Wines) and New Zealand (Unison Vineyard). Will be back in summer!
My gap year adventure so far:
Douro, Portugal: Possibly one of the harshest wine regions with spectacular scenery. Quinta de Roriz, home of Prats & Symington, produces some of the best red wine in the region under the names of Chryseia and Post Scriptum. Luis Coelho is the winemaker at the helm and the entire team is just like a big family.
Mosel, Germany: An equally spectacular steep slopes wine region but with totally different climate and wine. Lone Aussie Martin Cooper partnered with Weingut Kloster Ebernach to pursue his dream of making the finest Riesling in the heart of Germany. It was fun experimenting all possibilities at his tiny winery.
Tokaj, Hungary: Definitely the place to learn everything about botrytis. Holdvölgy makes sparkling, dry and various sweet wines using healthy, botrytis affected bunches and Aszú berries. The rolling vineyard in Mád was my classroom and the three wonderful ‘Aszú’ ladies were my teachers.
Sussex, England: Post harvest work at Bolney Wine Estate, my former employer while I was studying at Plumpton. The winery has expanded and so has the range that includes an outstanding Blanc de Blancs and an impressive Pinot Noir. Sam Linter, second generation and winemaker, is full of energy and new ideas.
Stellenbosch, South Africa: I was learning how to make bubblies at Villiera Wines and got a bonus lesson on sustainability. Solar energy, carbon footprint offset, nature preservation and water conservation are as important as making their signature MCC. The Grier cousins and winemakers are hands-on and more than willing to share their knowledge. I just need to keep asking.