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Winefuture Hong Kong Impresses in Parts

Posted: Monday, 14 November 2011 18:21

Winefuture Hong Kong Impresses in Parts

Nov 14: The second edition of Winefuture, the 3-day biennial, biggest international wine conference, organised by the Wine Academy of Spain in Hong Kong last week was generally quite impressive with the sheer number of the delegates and the expertise level of speakers being quite enviable with the three guided grand tastings being the memorable highlights, writes Subhash Arora who felt that it had its share of glitches and shortcomings.

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A vibrant presentation that noted the huge efforts made by Pancho Campo MW in showcasing various wineries in Spain transported most people to the production facilities through the audio-visual presentation as they tasted the wines and watched the short clips of Pancho interacting with the owners or winemakers. Robert Parker's Magical 20 was a surrealistic experience and he connected very well with the full house of a thousand people. Jancis Robinson was a ‘10' in her taking us Beyond Bordeaux although, as one would expect in the controversial wine world, some people felt as if she were sitting on a dais like a college professor from Harvard unlike Uncle Bob who gave you the feeling as if he were your tasting partner across the table.

There were 13 panels each with 2-5 experts discussed and debated the pre-assigned topics of their expertise with a moderator acting as the captain and the rudder.

Film director and wine maker Francis Ford Coppola who was the guest of honour at the conference, compared wine producing with film making in his address and said a good winemaker always needed to tell a story like in a film, and that it was a part of our history, and timeless culture. Giving the examples of literary works of Dumas and Balzac he said, ‘yo u have to create your own legend'. Helped by luck he was happy that he had now become owner of the iconic Inglenook winery in Napa and the historical label.

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Francis ford Coppola- Guest of Honour
He joined a line up speakers from the New World, including Wines of South Africa's Su Birch, former head of Wine Australia and now a wine consultant, Paul Henry, Alberto Arizu of Wines of Argentina and Cristian Lopez, of the Chilean biggest producer Concha y Toro, who averred that the Old World and New World were increasingly overlapping and merging with each other and it was no longer necessary or proper to categorize them as such since a good wine is good no matter where it is produced.

Gianluca Bisol, (Italy), Pedro Ferrer (Spain) and Tony Jordan (Australia) had an interesting discussion on the future of sparkling wines. While Bisol was optimistic about the future of Prosecco, estimating it to touch a billion bottles in 25 years, Ferrer was not as aggressively optimistic as that with Jordan being the defending champion who believed that Champagne would continue to rule the roost in the fine bubble market and the demand will continue to remain ahead of the supply.

The panel discussing the Future of grape varietals and Emerging regions because of climate change generally agreed on the countries around Black Sea emerging as the new regions. Stephen Spurrier betted on the Vermentino as the new white grape as the champion while Cabernet Franc was his pick as a red varietal most likely to grow in stature. When asked to give two grapes that ought to be ripped off in future, Michel Rolland felt it was unnecessary to discuss as the market force would decide it automatically-if Chardonnay goes out of fashion and no one buys it, it would be pulled out but it was not possible or practical to guess which varietal would most likely be discarded.

Angelo Gaja, David Pearson (Opus One) , Miguel Torres and Eduardo Chadwick talked about making the artisan wines and how they were doing it, with James Suckling as the moderator. Technological breakthroughs, human aspirations and market demands have led to a recent change in the acceptance that wines of high quality needn't only be the prerogative of small-scale production. The common thread between these successful producers had been passion and hard work and of course, their hands- on approach to winemaking concluded Suckling.

The Panel moderated by Debra Meiburg, ‘Doing Business and Selling Wines in Asia' had Carl Robinson, Don St. Pierre Jr, Ian Ford, Ned Goodwin MW and Subhash Arora (President of Indian Wine Academy) as the panelists. It was a ‘how-to' presentation that focused on Hong Kong, Japan, China and India and the future market trends in these countries. According to the speakers though Japan was a relatively new market, it was not bogged down by taxes and procedures like in India and China.

Hong Kong and China have too many small and fragmented importers that have to be handled at a different level with developing relationships most important. India has high taxes with complicated procedures and bends that must be negotiated before finding the proverbial pot of gold in the medium to long term. Chinese and Hong Kong markets are expected to continue to grow exponentially with the role of Education extremely important in all these countries.

‘Asian Directions—Palate & Perception' moderated by the charming Korean Jeannie Cho Lee MW now living in Hong Kong, had Demei Li and Yang Lu, the top Chinese wine personalities along with Ian Ford and Michikatsu Sato from Japan, who talked not only about the effect of Umami as the fifth taste element making wine selection complicated but understanding Asian palate a very important aspect of food and wine match.

The Panel on ‘New Marketing Strategy for the Wine Industry' moderated by Robert Joseph was one of the more lively and interactive sessions that drew audience participation as well helped ripping many of the existing marketing strategies apart.

Tasting Area                                                                    GALLERY

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One of the interesting sidelines at the conference was the Tasting Areas next to the conference room. There were wines not only from Spain but several newer regions like Wines from Turkey and Georgia. One could taste wines from producers like Gaja, Antinori, Errazuriz-where you could also taste Don Maximiliano. As Michel Bettane, the well-known straight-from-the-hip-shooting French journalist and critic says, 'where else would you find Gaja Sperss 1997 being poured from a magnum that you could drink as much as you like?' There was the Consortium of Chianti Classico present in full strength. Alessio Planeta, the marketing manager of the family owned Planeta was at the IRVV (Istituto Regionale del Vino e Vignete) stand pouring his La Segreta and other labels.

‘Wines from Brazil' showed how their wines are coming up in quality and popularity. Even Chinese wines were present to stake their claim in the Future of Wine. ‘Sud de France' had several excellent wines. In fact, Bettane who brings out the much revered annual French Guide rued there were several golden nuggets at the stand but were perhaps not getting as much attention as they deserved.

It is a pity that ‘Wines from India' were not present at the tasting arena. Indian Grape Processing Board (IGPB) which proclaims to promote the wines from India participated at the Hong Kong Wine and Spirits Fair that had concluded a day earlier but did not take part as a country unit like Brazil, China, Turkey and Georgia. Reportedly the Board had erred by not passing the proposal to subsidize the cost and present a united picture. The few producers who took part in the Show lost an opportunity and India certainly lost the chance of Brand India image building that the Tasting Area provided. All one can say is-Incredible India!

Problems

The Show was not without its shares of glitches and problems- biggest being too much content to handle in the 3 days-from November 6-8. The speakers were experts with a lot of knowledge in their subject and had the capacity and capability to go on for hours. To compress their subject of interest into less than 10 minutes might have been not only unjust to them but with every one overshooting a few minutes it meant that there was no scope for questions and answers. One of the speakers who could enlighten the audience with his wine business prowess had to be intercepted midway. Fortunately, like fine wine things improved with each day.

Some of the speakers who are highly successful to the level of being iconic did not go beyond talking about their own activities or the business when the topics were supposedly allotted at a different plane and they kept forgetting they were present as statesmen with a vision to present the future and how their wisdom could generate ideas to help shape it better. A few were not beyond glorifying themselves and their achievements a tad too much, according to many delegates. Moderators were able to rein them in- but not always.

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Pancho Campo who had made 13 trips to Hong Kong to make this event a success, and David Furer moderated the final session on the wine future, which left one to draw their own conclusions but one thing conclusive was that there would be Winefuture Part 3 in two years' time to further look into various aspects.

The 3-day conference which helped seal several old friendships and form many new acquaintances was music to the ears of connoisseurs. For people like Michel Bettane who love classical music and Opera, it might have been a musical soiree- intersperse with a bit of rock-on-roll . But if one were to fill out the report card that says at the end, ‘would you like to come to the next Winefuture two years hence' I would say, ‘absolutely.'

Subhash Arora

Tasting Area                                                                   Event

       

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