While most wine merchants might consider theirs a day job, Mei Ling Fok's entry for our indie competition is about high-flying lawyers and accountants who consider it rather more of a night job...
Nestled in the midst of Hong Kong's renowned milieu of hustle and bustle is a wine shop called Vinsionaire. It is very small but then all the shops, cafes, à la mode eateries, pâtisseries, bakeries, ice-cream parlours and wine bars lining and dotting the many narrow streets in the vicinity are small. Space is at a premium in this an up-and-coming trendy part of Causeway Bay. New residential units in the area, no bigger than a shoe box, sell for over a princely US$1 million each. Welcome to Hong Kong, not Texas.
This wine shop is unique. If you think you can stroll in after casual coffee, you will be met only by an iron curtain-gate. Unless there is an appointment, it is closed. It is not because business is not important, but the owners have day jobs - senior lawyers and accountants. That said, it is actually much easier to get them to show up at the wine shop for wine talk then to get an appointment at their offices. When they do show up, expect friendly banter in a cosy little place as they are genuinely keen to foster relationships with their customers. One does not need to know too much about wines. They are prepared to chat or share tasting notes and experiences. One can bring friends and share a bottle or two. Close at heart is indulging in their love and appreciation of wine with customers who are interested. The last of the small breed of true wine afiocionados - entrepreneurs.
It is no mystery to customers that behind the iron-gated exterior lies panels of bespoke floor-to-ceiling cellars with carefully controlled temperature systems. Without resorting to the usual name-dropping of the all-too-familiar heavyweight triad of Burgundy-Bordeaux-Rhône, and others; surfeit that any connoisseur will be more than suitably impressed at the display in the glass cellars and will quickly understand why correct storage must be key.
On the drawing board, Vinsionaire began when a few wine lovers got together and accumulated a private collection of old and rare vintages, mainly Old World, hand-picked after much research and due diligence. The wines are then handled with kid gloves and pampered from the moment they arrive. So as to avoid unneccesary handling, there is also storage in the UK warehouse accessible on demand. This private collection then eventually burgeoned into a formidable inventory suitable for a boutique wine shop for both the discerning and the learning.
As their repertoire consists of many old vintages, it is not difficult to pull something out befitting of any special occasion. For my birthday, and not meaning to reveal my age, I was surprised with a 1959 Ch Latour from the shop. My lucky day! For one of the owner's daughter's wedding dinner, numerous bottles of 1985 Mouton Rothchild flew off the shelves for good friends. Further, the owners had, over the last few years, volunteered to help me design the portfolio of three charity wine auctions and successfully raised sizeable funding for a local charity supporting children with Spinal Muscular Atrophy.
There is no shortage of interest. The wine scenery in Hong Kong switched to fast-forward in 2008 when Henry Tang, the ex-second-in-command in the government (who is famous for his soft spot for fine wines), announced the lifting of wine duty. Volumes jumped from 78% to 215% in the same year. The idea is to make Hong Kong Asia's wine hub. Six years on, there are wine shops at every other street corner, but to me and many others, there will be none as unique as this shop, one of a kind. At the time of writing, the owners are already packing for their annual trip to France for meeting and note-sharing with chteâau-owners, wine-makers, movers and shakers. For those of us not going, their website is worth a tour.