Growing thirst for wine knowledge

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 May, 2010, 12:00am

Auction house Christie's has been involved with Vinexpo since the mid-1980s, hosting educational talks on collecting fine wine. At this year's Asia-Pacific expo, David Elswood, international head of the wine department at Christie's Europe and Asia, will talk about Hong Kong's growing role in the world's wine trade during his lecture and hold a question-and-answer session. The 'Wine Auctions: the reason for Hong Kong's leadership' will be held on Thursday at 10.30am.

'There has been a revolutionary expansion since the lifting of [the wine] duty in 2008. Hong Kong has now become the number one spot for dynamic activity in wine auctions, taking over from New York,' Elswood says.

He will also address topics such as authenticating wine and the detection of fakes. These issues, that affect the growing market for collecting wine in Hong Kong and Asia, are part of a growing thirst for wine knowledge across the region.

'People used to look mostly to London for wine expertise. Many of the commentators were from there, even though it is not a producer. Hong Kong will develop into a centre of wine knowledge,' he says.

Christie's, which has four masters of wine in its educational team, has held master-class wine courses for 30 years in Britain. At Vinexpo Asia-Pacific, it will announce courses that will begin in Hong Kong in the second half of the year, principally on Bordeaux and Burgundy. The instructors will be from Europe and the United States.

While, for the foreseeable future, Hong Kong remains the focus for Christie's Asian auctions, Elswood says it will expand its educational activities beyond Hong Kong to across Asia.

'Before we rush on to capitalise on other potential areas such as Singapore or Seoul, we will concentrate on Hong Kong. Education will encompass other cities, though - and they will be announced at Vinexpo [2010].'

The mainland, in particular, is a rapidly growing wine market.

'Clearly this is an emerging market. The extent of it is potentially mind-boggling,' Elswood says. 'We've held events in Beijing and Shanghai for the past few years. Obviously, for everyday wine consumers the market is growing. As wine auctioneers, we deal with a relatively small amount of people at auction. We target the top 100 buyers at the moment.'

Christie's also hosts a dozen regular clients in India, another emerging market.

But while markets differ in their consumption and sales rates, the process of wine auctioning in Asia is almost exactly the same as elsewhere, Elswood says.

'We always try to source the best wine, make sure it's accurately described and have long discussions with buyers,' Elswood says. 'We select the top 20 per cent of our wines; the average lot value - which typically is one case - is usually more than HK$100,000.'

Elswood notes that the new bidder is more of a consumer in Asia, buying for enjoyment and entertainment. 'Bidders will spend HK$1 million at a sale and, by the next auction, they'll have consumed [the wine].'

Christie's has two wine sales a year, but it may expand them. The next sale, Hong Kong's Finest and Rarest Wines Including the Liquid Gold Collection - Three Centuries of Chateau d'Yquem, will be held on Saturday at 10.30am at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. 'We'd love to say it's great planning that our sale is the same time as Vinexpo, but it's a coincidence,' Elswood says.