HK businessman Peter Kwok wins Asian Personality Award 2018

Peter Kwok, founder of Vignobles K Group, has won the Asian Personality Award 2018 given by the drinks business Hong Kong and Vinexpo, for his pioneering venture into Bordeaux more than 20 years ago.

Peter Kwok, founder of Vignobles K Group (centre), receiving The Asian Personality Award given by Guillaume Deglise, outgoing Vinexpo CEO, and Ivy Ng, publisher of the drinks business Hong Kong on 30 May during Vinexpo Hong Kong.

This year’s recipient Kwok joins a growing league of industry heavyweights in Asia’s wine market that have won the award, including Grace Vineyards’ CEO, Judy Chan, in 2012, followed by Vincent Cheung, grand master of the Commanderie de Bordeaux in Asia, in 2014, and the creators of the hugely popular manga series The Drops of God, Yuko and Shin Kibayashi, in 2016.

Kwok’s lifelong passion for Bordeaux and French culture has led him to purchase seven estates in Bordeaux Right Bank over a period of 20 years, revamping forgotten vineyards to pristine condition and building a sustainable and quality-driven family business that now sells wines across the globe through the Place de Bordeaux system. 

His presence in Bordeaux has inspired a new generation of Chinese investors who are snatching up Bordeaux vineyards either for their love of wine culture or investment purposes. Chinese investors now own roughly 140 châteaux in Bordeaux, the fastest growing group of buyers in the region, though they only make up less than 2% of the 7,000 vineyards in Bordeaux, still far behind the Belgians.

Born and raised in what was then Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), in what was then the French colony of Vietnam, Kwok’s venture into Bordeaux, was not at first inspired by the timeless Bordeaux blends, but rather French architecture, dark-roast coffee and crunchy baguettes. His first purchase of Château Haut Brisson in Saint Emilion in 1997 was merely a business investment for a family country house that, as he put it, happens to have a few hectares of vineyards.

Henry Tang, former chief secretary of Hong Kong, congratulating Peter Kwok for winning the Asian Personality Award

Over a span of 20 years, the Hong Kong businessman’s accidental love affair with winemaking in Bordeaux has grown into a fully-fledged business under Vignobles K Group that now counts Château Haut Brisson, Château Tour Saint Christophe, Château La Patache, Enclos Tourmaline, Enclos de Viaud, Château Le Rey and most recently Château Bellefont-Belcier under its umbrella in Saint-Emilion and Pomerol.

But make no mistake, Kwok is not one of the deep-pocketed Chinese investors who are buying obscure Bordeaux estates to sell wines solely back to mainland China. The astute businessman who also heads Citic Resources Holdings, the energy subsidiary of China’s biggest state-owned investment company, Citic Group, shows no interest in producing large volume wines for the China market however lucrative it might be, and is bent on producing terroir-driven wines from each estate that are individual and harmonious expressions of the land.

The combined overall production of his châteaux only hovers around 250,000 bottles a year, and from 2013 onwards his wines began to be sold through the Place de Bordeaux system to five continents around the world, with less than 10% of wines going to mainland China, he revealed to dbHK.

Previously, with limited production of 40,000 or so bottles, the wines were mostly consumed among friends and business associates. “In the year around 2010, it was so easy, you just call some friends,” he said, then the wines were sold out in Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan.

But with growing quality comes with growing popularity. In 2013, he decided to sell his wines through négociants, which effectively expanded his market reach. “To make good wine, you want the market to appreciate, not just your friends…[global distribution] means other markets accept our product,” he explained.

Peter Kwok with Frederick Ma (right), Hong Kong MTR chief

In the past 10 years, an influx of wealthy Chinese businessman started to march into Bordeaux at a time when the Chinese wine market was enjoying an unprecedented boom. Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, and Chinese actress Zhao Wei to name a few have purchased vineyards in Bordeaux. But until now, most of the purchases are not classified châteaux in prestigious appellations – something he thinks will change.

His estates Château La Patache, Enclos Tourmaline and Enclos de Viaud for instance are located in the prestigious Pomerol appellation neighbouring estates such as Château La Fleur Petrus and Château Le Pin. His other estate Château Tour Saint Christophe in Saint Emilion on clay-limestone soil still has stone terraces built in the 18th century – similar to the ‘socalcos‘ found in the Douro – the only well preserved remnants in the appellation, according to Peter. 

“In the past few decades, China has opened up, and many of the Chinese are nouveau riche, they start to drink wine and think having a château is a fun business without knowing that it’s farming,” he told dbHK commenting on the trend. “Many of them bought it because they are not expensive and some of them think they can sell their wines in China, but I am sure in the near future, you will see more and more Chinese [buying vineyards] for real interest…You will see more classified growths sold to Chinese.”

More than 100 guests including former chief secretary of Hong Kong Henry Tang, the New Zealand Consul-general to Hong Kong, and MTR chief attended the award ceremony on 30 May, which was sponsored by Champagne Barons de Rothschild.

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