Clubbing in for top quality
Luca Luise raised the glass of dark purple wine, took a swallow, closed his eyes in appreciation and said: 'That's what the Aussies call GSM.' GSM? Yes, Good Stuff, Mate. Dead right, cobber, that 96 Rosemount Estate GSM - a mixture of grenache, shiraz and mouverdre - is very good stuff indeed. It's a bit pricey at $300 from Jebsen (fax: 2882-1976) but situated in the strategic bracket of very-good-quality wines.
This is precisely the market sector that the new Jebsen Fine Wine Club targets. Mr Luise, an amiable Venetian who formerly worked in food and beverage at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, is the manager.
It's free to join, but by invitation only. Started a few weeks ago, the Jebsen Fine Wine Club aims to attract no more than 50 or so members, almost all of whom will be existing customers of the wine company. Its objective is to educate, inform and entertain people who want to know more about wine. You don't have to be an expert to take part, just be interested and keen to have a drink. 'If we get a shipment of great private reserve wine, then we'll tell wine club members first,' explains Gavin Jones, general manager of Jebsen Wine.
But the main idea, says Mr Luise, is to get members involved socially, to taste wines, talk about wines, expand wine knowledge. This will be done through seminars, wine dinners and tastings, most of which will involve visiting winemakers. If the owner of a noted Californian winery passes through Hong Kong, for instance, and if Jebsen carries the firm's wines, the owner would be invited to speak at a tasting and explain the vintages.
If a famous winemaker was coming to town, the club might organise a dinner for members at a five-star hotel restaurant, with prices kept at about the $600 level and with Jebsen supplying wine to go with the courses.
The club concept is one demonstration of the fast-changing pattern of wine sales in Hong Kong. Mr Jones points out that the sleepy old days have long passed when wine merchants sat back and waited for the phone to ring so they could fill their order books. These days, the wine merchants have to work closely with retailers, particularly supermarkets.
That's where the bulk of less expensive wines are being moved. It's in the key mid-market bracket that wine merchants now have the greatest impact, good wines, largely from the new world, costing between $80 and $400 a bottle.
'Wine club meetings will have a flexible format,' says Mr Luise. 'At a $600 dinner at Nicholini's in the Conrad or Grissini in the Grand Hyatt, we will be pouring quality wines as members listen to some of the world's top winemakers explain their art.' If the chief winemaker from Rosemount, Philip Shaw, comes to town, he would be a natural speaker at such a dinner. This would give people the opportunity to hear how he takes different grapes from an enormous range of micro-climates and produces wines of amazing diversity to gain that GSM moniker.