I lose a customer whenever an old man dies, says owner, lamenting imminent closure Hong Kong's last remaining Chinese winery will close within 18 months due to declining business. The owner of 86-year-old Cheong Yuen Chinese Wine Merchant, in Possession Street, Sheung Wan, said he had failed to turn the tide because of the changing tastes of young people and stiff competition from mainland brands. 'I have tried my best to save this shop, but I don't believe anything will change my fortune,' Alex Suen Mon-hoi said. The 36-year-old bought the winery six years ago, with his entire HK$800,000 savings, from its second-generation owner, Cheung Kan-chee, after his sons and daughters decided not to take on the family business. He spent about six months with the family learning the techniques needed to produce rice wine. 'At the time, I thought I could turn the business around,' Mr Suen said. 'I had even dreamed one day that our wine would appear on the dining tables of the city government's dinners and banquets. 'Well, I've been proved wrong. Young people do not drink rice wine any more because they like red wine and beer. I lose a customer whenever an old man dies in this city. 'Unlike Man Yuen Noodle or Tai Cheong's egg tarts, rice wine is not something for everybody and it is not popular any more. This place is part of Hong Kong's heritage, especially the 200 wine pots here which are probably antiques. I want to keep it running but I can't. I will hang on as long as I can, but it will go within a year or 18 months,' said Mr Suen, who was formerly a garment worker. The business was opened in 1920 at the cross-section between Queen's Road Central and Bonham Strand East and became one of the most famous wineries in town. The shop, which specialises in yu bing shao, with its strong meaty flavour, sold 2,000 bottles a day at its peak between the 1950s and 1970s. But it now sells only 5,000 bottles a month. Mr Suen said price competition from mainland imports had accelerated the downturn. 'The mainland brands are selling at HK$10 per bottle, while mine costs HK$25 each,' he said. 'We are using recycled bottles and these alone cost HK$1 each. We just cannot compete.' The business began losing money last year and the situation is now so bad that Mr Suen has started selling soft drinks and cigarettes in front of his shop. 'As you can see, it is not a very busy area. This can only help a little,' he said. He had thought of selling the products in supermarkets but could not afford the high charges of the big chains; he also inquired about exporting the wine to the mainland, but was told a 200 per cent tax would be imposed. Roger Ho Yao-sheng, project manager at the Conservancy Association's Centre for Heritage, said the winery's problems raised the issue of whether intangible heritage, which may not have a commercial value, ought to be preserved. He said many aspects of local Chinese heritage remained a mystery to young people due to a lack of exposure. 'It is not just wine, it also happens with festivals. You see hordes of excited children trick-or-treating during Halloween, but for the Chinese Ghost Festival there is little interest,' he said. 'Schools are starting to address the issue, such as promoting the Forbidden City, but it will be years before we see the effects.'