Vinexpo Hong Kong: a guide to the fairBy Rupert Millar
Italy will be in the limelight as the Country of Honour at this year’s Vinexpo Hong Kong, as a wealth of masterclasses, tastings and product launches put winemaking back at heart of this must-attend event in the Asian drinks trade calendar.
THERE’LL BE a touch more bella Italia than la belle France at this year’s Vinexpo when it touches down in Hong Kong for its seventh edition this 24-26 May. That is because this year, in keeping with the tradition of the biennial show, it is Italy which will be in the limelight as the Country of Honour, with special masterclasses, tastings and product launches dedicated to this unique and diverse wine-producing country.
Leading a lot of the Italian-focused events will be the country’s foremost wine guide, Gambero Rosso. The magazine will be hosting two special tastings on Italy’s wines and spirits, the former consisting of 60 wines that gained the top mark in Gambero Rosso’s latest Vini d’Italia guide and the latter of 10 spirits.
There will be a further masterclass on the growing Italian spirits sector, led by Marco Sebellico and bartender Massimo D’Adezzio on Tuesday 24th and another on Thursday 26th.
Look out as well for the Special Awards of Vini d’Italia in the late afternoon of the Tuesday when nine of the best wines of the Vini d’Italia representing nine ‘symbols’ of the Italian wine scene will be named by Sabellico.
In addition, further Italian-themed tastings include a presentation of wines from the new top tier of Chianti Classico, the Gran Selezione, a masterclass on indigenous Italian grape varieties and the ageability of Barolo, and a conference on business opportunities for Italian wines in Asia Pacific led by wine critic James Suckling and Vinexpo’s CEO Guillaume Deglise.
Announcing Italy’s central role at this year’s fair last October, Deglise had explained: “Vinexpo is the partner of the wine and spirits trade. Its objective consists in promoting the vast range of wines and spirits that exist in the world and to develop business opportunities for the producers on an international scale.
“Naming a country of honour and paying tribute to its production at the same time as helping the country to raise its profile and boost sales is part of Vinexpo’s mission.” The focus on Italy as guest of honour has proved a providential choice given the recent news that China’s biggest online retailer, Alibaba, is to launch a ‘day of wine’ this September that will heavily feature Italian products.
Announcing the initiative, Alibaba’s founder, Jack Ma, said he wanted Alibaba to be the “gateway to China for Italian brands and small businesses”.
As well as the focus on Italy, this year’s Vinexpo HK will also feature the fair’s first ever Grape Variety Day on Thursday 26th.
Kick-starting this new aspect of the fair will be Shiraz and, like Italy over the course of the show, Thursday will feature a number of tastings, events and conferences dedicated to the grape, wherever in the world it may be found.
The Shiraz programme begins with a breakfast conference exploring business opportunities for Shiraz/Syrah in Asia. Entitled ‘Can Shiraz become the next trend in Asia’, the talk will include a panel led by Robert Hill-Smith, chairman of Yalumba, South Australia; Nelson Chow, president of the Hong Kong Sommelier Association and vice-president of ASI Asia and Oceania; and Ronald Brown, founder of Maverick wines, South Australia.
French wine contest Citadelles du Vin will host a blind tasting of Shiraz and Syrah from around the world later that morning. Tasters will be able to rate the wines and a winner will afterwards be announced.
Wine experts John Stimpfig and Debra Meiburg MW will host masterclasses on Shiraz – Stimpfig on some of the grape’s iconic producers and Meiburg on the best Asian food pairings.
Meiburg’s masterclass will also explore the influence of terroir on the grape.
With 1,300 international exhibitors from 35 countries already booked and an expected 16,000 to 17,000 buyers from 24 countries expected to attend, Vinexpo HK is undoubtedly one of the largest and most important events on the wine business calendar. To boost this experience further, Vinexpo has announced the launch of new initiatives for this year to further encourage trade interaction and networking, including One to Wine Meetings, which will enable tailor-made appointments between exhibitors and visiting trade.
“With visiting professionals just as important to us as the exhibitors, the service adds a superior degree of professionalism to the trade show,” said Deglise.
As always there will be a full line-up of events, sometimes run by exhibitors on their stands or through Vinexpo’s Academy.
Around 60 events have been organised so far for this year’s show – some already mentioned above in relation to the focuses on Italy and Shiraz. Other key events include the China Market Conference with Grace Vineyard’s co-owner, Judy Chan, and chief executive of Vinfolio, Don St Pierre Jr.
The conference will offer a “deep insight” into the Chinese market, its evolution, tendencies and consumption trends. There will also be tastings and masterclasses on topics as diverse as investing in a vineyard, the wines of Gevrey-Chambertin, Greece and Chinese wine regions, including a presentation by Moët Hennessy Estate Wines’ president, JeanGuillaume Prats of the company’s Shangri-La winery. Leading Chilean estate Almaviva will also be holding a vertical masterclass of its back vintages to show the evolution of the wines from its founding in 1997 to the present day.
Look out for tastings on stands and pavilions as well. The French pavilion always has a particularly extensive programme.
Tastings and masterclasses this year include pairing Rhône wines with chocolate, a look at the wines of the Loire, Bordeaux, France’s sparkling wines, Burgundian appellations, Gamay, spirits and organic wines. Likewise, the Spanish pavilion, organised by the Spanish Wine Federation (FEV), will be hosting 29 producers from Rioja to Rías Baixas as well as eight unique masterclasses and tastings throughout the fair.
The FEV’s Luis Blanca said: “Vinexpo Hong Kong is one of the most relevant wine trade fairs of the Asian market for Spanish wineries. This influential fair is a great opportunity to increase the presence of the Spanish enterprises in the region.
“It gives Spanish wineries and distributors the opportunity not only to meet professionals from Hong Kong, but also from many other major Asian markets.” The Vinexpo Challenge, a blind tasting contest led by Deglise and the recently crowned ‘Best Sommelier of the World 2016’, Arvid Rosengren from Sweden, will take place on 24 May.
Further events will be hosted by Dixon Yuan, Jeannie Cho Lee MW, Li Demei, Michel Rolland, Simon Tam, and Michel Bettane and Thierry Desseauve. These last two, under their joint banner bettane+dessauve, recently announced a new partnership with Vinexpo which will be debuting at the Hong Kong show. ‘Vinexpo feat. bettane+desseauve’ is designed as a series of tastings unveiling new products, the talents of up and coming winemakers, and rare and surprising wines, in order to “put winemaking back at the centre” of Vinexpo’s events schedule.
New releases will also be much in evidence. Chile’s Santa Rita Estates for example is launching three new wines for its ‘Secret Reserve Range’ at the show as well as four new wines from its Carmen winery. Fellow Chilean winery, Montes, will be showing its ‘Sparkling Angel’ which will launch in Korea immediately afterwards and its 2016 ‘Angel’s Selection’ Sauvignon Blanc which is geared towards Japan.
It will also be presenting the latest vintage of its “super icon” wine ‘Taita’ and a premium Cabernet Franc from its Argentine winery, Kaiken. Marketing manager, Eduardo Wexman, said: “Montes was one of the pioneers in opening the Asian market for Chilean wines and particularly for premium wines. And we believe the same for Kaiken. Asia is a focus market and we are putting all our efforts to promote not only our wines but Argentina as well.” ASIA OFF-BALANCE? When Vinexpo last visited Hong Kong in 2014 it was undoubtedly at the toughest time for Asia’s biggest wine hub since the abolition of tax in 2008.
In 2013, years of uninterrupted growth came to an end when the market slumped 7.4%, largely due to the mainland Chinese government’s crackdown on corruption and accompanying austerity drive. Since then, sales have lifted 1.4% and, interestingly, Vinexpo and the IWSR’s survey shows it is sparkling wine that is leading the recovery, with demand up 46.9% between 2010 and 2014. However, it is Cava and Prosecco, not Champagne, that are driving the volume.
There is also greater activity in lower price brackets, and the average price for a bottle of wine dropped from HK$154 to HK$124 between 2010 and 2014. Red wines, of course, remain the most popular styles and still command a 43.4% market share. Likewise, France is still the leading country for imported wines, although the faltering demand for premium wines has seen its share decline 26.5%. By contrast, the demand for less expensive wines has been a boon for Chile and Spain – sales of the latter are being helped by continued growth in tapas bars and restaurants.
Whisky (Scotch, Japanese and Bourbon) and Cognac remain the standout imported spirits in Hong Kong but Vinexpo has also noted the growing trend for niche products such as rum, gin and Tequila – with gin in particular seeing a revival in popularity that mirrors the trend in the UK and US.
German spirit producer Deheck, which boasts an exotic range of flavours such as cassis-flavoured sparkling vodka, will be hoping to capitalise on this increasing interest in the niche and unusual when it exhibits for the first time at the German pavilion. the drinks business will be hosting a Spirits Bar at the fair for the second time.
As well as on-stand masterclasses, a team of bartenders from both the International Bartenders Association and Hong Kong Bartenders Guild will be making cocktails from a number of spirits such as Beluga’s ‘Noble’ and ‘Gold Line’ Siberian vodkas.
Returning to the market theme, generally, the Vinexpo/IWSR study concludes, the fundamentals for the Chinese and Hong Kong markets remain “strong in the long term”. What’s more, judging by the success of 2014’s show, Hong Kong is “without doubt the region’s foremost meeting place for wine and spirits professionals”, according to Deglise, who adds: “We feel at home in Hong Kong as the gateway to Asia’s wine and spirits trade, and hub for the world’s fastest-growing wine market in China.”