Wine is big business in the Asia-Pacific region as Hong Kong has become the principal trading centre for fine wines in the world. The fourth Hong Kong International Wine and Spirits Fair has grown this year to include more than 930 exhibitors from 37 countries and regions. Exhibition groups are being sent by 19 countries, while exhibitors from France and Spain total more than 250. Countries exhibiting for the first time include Georgia, Israel, Latvia, Malta, Slovakia and Sweden. Asia's biggest wine event has grown in terms of exhibitor numbers by 37 per cent from last year. The growth of the fair directly reflects that of the city's booming wine trade, according to Benjamin Chau, deputy executive director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, which organises the event. 'In 2008 wine imports to Hong Kong only amounted to HK$2.9 billion, but by 2010 this had reached HK$7 billion, a growth of more than 140 per cent in the three-year span. For the first eight months of this year, wine imports amounted to HK$6.7 billion, an increase of 65 per cent compared with the same period last year,' says Chau. Exhibitors include local and international industry leaders, while the programme has broadened to encompass more sectors of a complex and diversified industry. Highlights of the three-day show, which starts today, include the Wine Auction and Investment Forum, which takes place on Saturday, the fair's public day, from 2.30pm to 4.30pm. It will give advice about essential points for would-be investors. Close to 60 special events include the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine and Spirits Competition, which this year has expanded to include all spirit categories. Tastings take place in the run-up to the fair, with the results announced this evening at a cocktail reception. The prestigious Wine Industry Conference, held this afternoon, is moderated by Debra Meiburg, Master of Wine. Topics include mainland wine distribution and developments in the vintage wine trade on the mainland, reflecting the industry's interest in developing new business there. This year's official fair partner country, Italy, features strongly in the events calendar. 'The Vino Sangiovese Forum is one of many activities that will focus on Italy. There will be a special tasting area at the Vinitaly Pavilion dedicated to Italian wine education. The organiser, Veronafiere, is also offering a forum on Italian wine, seminars, sommelier-led tastings and wine-pairing cooking demonstrations, while the gala wine dinner, the fair's signature event, will feature an Italian theme,' says Chau. Other highlights include the third Asia Top Sommelier Summit tomorrow, adding to the international reputation of the fair. Although the fair is primarily intended for professionals, Chau is keen to stress that a broader public is also being addressed. On the last day, which is open to the public and traditionally attracts a large crowd, events will include a wine auction, seminars, a World of Spirits master class and two Grand Tasting of Finest Wine sessions spotlighting Spain and Italy. In addition to the Wine Auction and Investment Forum, there will be an award presentation for The Most Beloved Wine voting game, in which the public can vote. A Wine Gallery, presenting wine, wine accessories and books from around the world, is expected to be a popular attraction. Early arrivals will each receive a free Lucaris tasting glass from the show's glass sponsor, Kung Kai Hong and Company, but these will be allocated strictly on a one-per-person, first-come, first-served basis. As last year, fairgoers who present a business card at the Visitor Promotion Counter will receive a coupon waiving the corkage charge for one bottle of wine or spirits bought at the fair when dining at one of Hong Kong's over 110 participating restaurants between November 3 and 13. 'The people of Hong Kong have shown a growing interest in wine-drinking culture and are becoming more and more appreciative of high-quality wines,' says Chau. 'In this year's fair, we will be introducing a Fine Wine Tasting on Saturday. Bordeaux Index and the Spanish Trade Development Council will be bringing us high-quality and reasonably priced Italian and Spanish wines scoring 90 points or above on the Robert Parker scale. 'The activities and events of the fair will be varied and exciting.'