From a marketing perspective, Hong Kong is different from other countries. Whereas in most markets the entry level segment is the biggest, that is not the case in Hong Kong. We have a disproportionately big luxury/investment wine category at 28% by volume. And the biggest market by far is the mid-market, from HK$120 to HK$600 per bottle retail, with 60% (Debra Meiburg MW 2012 Hong Kong Wine Trade Guide). So for consumers who are interested in wine, price seems not to be a major concern. This might be explained by the ‘work hard, play hard’ altitude of most Hong Kong residents. We reward ourselves. Just look at the number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the city, and they are always full.
It seems that, unlike in other cash-strapped cities, Hong Kong people are willing to spend. So why don’t more people drink? What it boils down to is that people just don’t understand wine. And, we in the industry don’t make it any easier for them. We talk technical stuff like tannin and acidity and we make them feel stupid if they can’t pronounce ‘terroir’ properly. In other words, we put consumers off wine by being too professional.
To make wine truly popular, we need to make it enjoyable. Coke is a highly precise drink with the exact same amount of syrup and pressure in every can, but the company doesn’t bother consumers with this. Consumers enjoy Coke because it is refreshing and they explore the different flavours and brands of soft drink to find their favourite. Starbucks didn’t lecture us about the correct temperature at which to drink coffee when they first came to Hong Kong, and now see how many coffee bars there are here! Wine may be slightly more complicated because of the many grape varieties and producing countries but it’s not impossible to make it simple and accessible. How about light and refreshing, soft and fruity, chewy and spicy, bold and savoury? These are descriptors that any consumer can grasp and imagine.
We eat Chinese meals most of the time but, sadly, not many mid-market Chinese restaurants offer wine. I hear lots of excuses, but I wish and hope that Chinese restaurateurs will one day soon realise the potential of having wine on the menu. The wine list doesn’t need to be long and winding—six to eight is adequate to start with—but the wine must be of good quality. People may not be able to tell the difference between wine varieties, but they know when a wine is not good. For me, a wine by the glass programme is the ideal way to start. It’s all about quality, not quantity. And in fact a few pioneer outlets have already demonstrated that having wine available not only increases their turnover but also customers’ loyalty.
We didn’t drink cappuccino 20 years ago, yet now the espresso machine is a trendy home appliance. I believe it’s only a matter of time before wine will be a normal item on the dinner table. After all, it’s a much better match for food than lemon tea!
The industry must unite to develop the wine culture. This is the only way to sustain a heathy market, benefiting everyone from producers and importers to restaurateurs and consumers.