A Sad Future for Hong Kong?

Posted by | Posted in Out of the Glass | Posted on 10-17-2011

The three-day wine event costs $2,900 to attend.

Speakers include Robert Parker, Jancis Robinson, James Suckling, Angelo Gaja, Jaime Araujo, Michel Rolland, and plenty others. Francis Ford Coppola is the “guest of honor.” And there will be three Grand Tastings, where “some of the world’s finest wines” will be poured.

Pancho Campo, host and organizer of the event, will lead the first tasting, entitled “The Diversity and Passion of Spanish Wines.” The second, called “Beyond Bordeaux,” will be led by Jancis Robinson, where she’ll showcase 15 wines from 15 different countries. The final tasting – called “The Magical 20” – will be headed up by Robert Parker, where he’ll highlight 20 different Bordeaux wines from the 2009 vintage.

An event for the fabulously wealthy in Napa Valley? Nope. A big wine to-do for Europe’s upper crust? Think again. A first-of-its-kind event in Bordeaux, aimed at collectors across the globe? Wrong again.

This is the lineup for Wine Future Hong Kong, because the future of wine in Asia, it seems, has nothing to do with Asians, Asian wine, or those without stratospheric wealth.

Put another way, the Poison of Wine Snobbery is alive and well. And the organizers of Wine Future Hong Kong see nothing wrong with promoting gatekeepers, endorsing the notion that “expensive must be good,” or pretending that white Westerners are the end-all-be-all of wine knowledge.

As the always provocative South African wine writer Neil Pendock recently wrote, after noticing that the Financial Times advertisement for the event featured “photos of a dozen round eyes,” but not Simon Tam or Asia’s first MW Jeannnie Cho Lee, “So far, so colonial.”

Poland’s leading wine writer, Wojciech Bońkowski, recently wrote an excellent blog post about the world’s reaction (in a nutshell, shock and disbelief) to the news that a Chinese wine won an International Trophy for the first time in history at the Decanter World Wine Awards. It also works as commentary for Wine Future Hong Kong:

It’s that almost paternalistic looking down on China that I actually find slightly racist. It’s not racism on a personal level, but it is an undercurrent of negative bias that is deeply encoded into the dominant narrative here. China just cannot make a world-class Cabernet because it has no ‘wine tradition’ or ‘wine culture.’ China can buy our bonds and Bordeaux, it can produce 99% of the world’s toys and shoes but when it comes to a precious product like fine wine, imbued with heritage and prestige, well it’s just impossible.

This is exactly the sort of post-colonial paternalism that was once used to dismiss Californian red wine until the Judgment of Paris revolutionized the wine world. Today no one would think of suggesting a New Zealand Sauvignon or Chilean Syrah cannot compete respectably with a wine from France. Yet in a transformed form, that paternalistic approach persists… You’d assume the wine world to be a very open-minded place, but stereotypes run deep.

It’d be disingenuous to claim that I’m a “man of the people” wine consumer (plus, the Wine Curmudgeon has that role covered) — I like obnoxiously pricey wines as much as the next oenophile. Or that I have an issue with expensive and exclusive wine events – I hope to make it to Auction Napa Valley in 2012. And on a personal note, I think the world of the palates, professionalism, and kindness of David and Maria Denton, the head sommeliers for Wine Future Hong Kong.

But the organizers of Wine Future Hong Kong are wasting an incredible opportunity. The goal of the event is to “discuss new opportunities for the industry and its possible future.” What’s “new” about Robert Parker leading a Bordeaux tasting? What do James Suckling or Michel Rolland have to do with the future of wine in Asia?

The event could have provided Pancho Campo and other organizers with an opportunity to discuss life beyond way-too-expensive Bordeaux. It could have provided organizers and attendees with an opportunity to discuss Asian culture – and what it would take to convert regular people to become wine drinkers. Heck, it could have provided an opportunity for interesting discussions about local wine – should Chinese consumers drink Chinese wine? Should they become global diplomats for their terroir?

Instead, Wine Future Hong Kong could have been held 10 or 20 years ago, in any nation on earth. And that’s a real shame.

If you think my impression is wrong, I’d love to hear it — so have at it in the comments!

Comments (3)

  1. “So far, so colonial”

    Great post, David. It is sad to see the event setting expectations for the “future” with so many (important, yet evolving/sometimes diminishing) traditions of the past.

    Let’s hope the new “Wine on a Budget” series reaches Hong Kong!

  2. Perhaps we have a chicken-and-egg problem on our hands. I know nothing about Chinese wines. But quite frankly, is it my responsibility to know more about Chinese wine? It’s up to Chinese winemakers (or enterprising foreign entrepreneurs who see an opportunity in Chinese wine production) to promote the product. I don’t think journalists need to do the promotion for them.

    Also, this is a “wine” event. Your ideas for panel discussion are interesting and worthy — but probably not enough to sustain a full-length conference. Is there anyone who can authoritatively speak on “wine and Asian culture?” The length of the “wine and China” Wikipedia page leaves me with doubts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wine_in_China.

    Finally (and cynically), the organizers of this conference want people to attend — predominantly rich people. The roster of guests and events caters to that market. The people who shell out several hundred dollars for a bottle of Harlan are not going to fly to Hong Kong for an event that doesn’t satisfy their cultural desires.

    If you delete the word “Future” from the title, this probably isn’t an issue. But “Future” is one of those positive, meaningless words that appeals to people. At least it’s not called “Wine Innovation Hong Kong.”

  3. [...] Simon hopes that Su will return to China to give him the opportunity of showing her his China and offers himself as a personal tour guide to this end. Perhaps Su will take him up on his offer next month after a conference damned by leading US wine blogger David White as one which “could have been held 10 or 20 years ago, in any nation on earth” and as such, a missed opportunity. [...]