MEET THE MASTER OF WINE

Sep 18, 2011 1 Comment by

Debra Meiburg, Master of Wine, TV presenter, wine journalist, writer, wine judge for International Wine Competitions and director of the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition, the largest pan-Asian wine competition and firstly authentically Asian competition in the world, expresses her views about the booming wine market in Asia.

This will be the first interview of the new Zhongguo Wine. We have been pretty busy these last months and the website has been missing a lot of information about the wine market in China. But don t worry, because we are back. Back with one monthly interview, one monthly guest article, one monthly “analysis” article by Lucas or me, and one News article. We are happy to be back online ! And this starts now with Debra.

Debra Meiburg, Master of Wine

The first time I met Debra Meiburg, it was in a taxi in Shanghai around May 2010. Actually, I did not exactly meet her. If you already took a taxi in Shanghai you might have noticed that taxis have little TVs to feature advertisements. (By the way, I am sure it is a great business model. How come I saw those TVs only in Shanghainese taxis?)

It was 2 am. I was bouncing to the 5th club of the night and Debra was here on the TV explaining to me how to pair wine with food. A one minute video concluding by “Debra, Master of Wine”. Oh my god, I had to meet the real one. So I sent her an email one day to know if she would be interested by an interview on our famous website ;)

She just replied something like “ok, let me know what number to call and when you want me to call you. By the way, why are you checking your email on a Saturday night?  Hope you’re in a Shanghai wine bar! “

I was not. But I followed the Master’s advice. I called Lucas and we went to a wine bar.

Interviewing Debra was particularly fun and interesting. Fun because you can feel even on the phone that she is smiling all the time. This kind of happy people who have a communicative joy of living. And interesting because first she is a Master of Wine, the highest qualification of professional knowledge (only 300 people are MWs in the world as of September 2011), second she lives in Asia and has therefore a specific point of view about the growing wine market in China and Asia.

Zhongguo Wine:  Could you introduce yourself and all your activities?

Debra Meiburg: I’m having so much fun right now, but – aiyeah – have too many projects on my plate!  We’ve just completed production of a wine television show, Taste the Wine that will be airing on Cathay Pacific Airways as of 1st October (six episodes).  We are compiling the first-ever Guide to the Hong Kong Wine Trade, which contains a directory of all things wine in Hong Kong plus market research based on a 40-question survey to the importers as to their business practices.  We’ll be highlighting special portfolios, provide insights about our market dynamics and have a little fun with industry quotes and caricatures.  Our tasting book, Tasting Wine with Debra, has been translated into simplified and traditional characters and is at the printers.  We’ve assembled a range of Wine Quiz Cards for wine study that we are releasing in packs of 100 each (by region) or a 2,000 cards mega-pack – everything you could possibly want to learn about wine (and prepare for wine exams).  We’ve also produced wine bottle tags and wine bags for small gifts at our corporate events.   All of these products are set to launch in November at the Hong Kong Wine & Spirits Fair and WineFuture 2011.  In the meantime, we are gearing up for the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition (HK IWSC), which is the large wine competition in Asia and features judges from 18 Asian cities (12 countries).  The judges must be both Asian-born and Asian-based as we hope to get a true reflection of the region’s current tastes and opinions.  Otherwise, lots of presentations, speeches and show judging around the world at conferences and corporate gatherings.   Social media is one of my favourite activities, so I’m very active on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube.   Oh, and I almost forgot, I have wine columns with the South China Morning Post and other magazines and papers in the region…but to be honest, I find writing the toughest part!

ZW: Where does this interest for wine come from? Where does this interest for Asia come from?

DM: Though I’ve spent almost half my life in Hong Kong, I’m originally from California’s Sonoma County, one of the state’s major wine regions, and have always had a passion for wine (my family has a small hobby-vineyard).  Since getting involved professionally with wine, I’ve worked harvest in Chile, pruned vines in Bordeaux, ran a crusher-destemmer in South Africa and worked as a cellar-hand in the Finger Lakes region (New York).  For me, wine is about history, culture, geography, science and, above all, pleasure.

Asia is my home and as most of my adult life I’ve lived here, it is hard to imagine wanting to be anywhere else.  I love the excitement, sophisticated vibe and ‘can-do’ attitude of Hong Kong.   I love that I can hike on peaceful green hills in the morning, pop by the fish market or wet market on the way home, sip Lafite at a wine luncheon two hours later, and then join a Gucci party that evening.  There’s no city like it in the world!

ZW: Could you present briefly the wine market in Hong Kong? And in Asia in general? What about China?

DM: Hong Kong has been a bi-polar market for years.  We drink fine wine at thousands of dollars per bottle on the one hand or pour vast quantities of low-end wines at weddings and lunar new year celebrations.  With the elimination of import duties (March 2008), Hong Kong’s mid-market wine segment is emerging at last, allowing for experimentation with new regions and styles.  Our survey results (Guide to the Hong Kong Wine Trade) indicated many interesting market dynamics and trends and I was most pleased to see that our importers are reaching outside France at last.  For the health of the wine market, to really grow wine culture in Asia, we must be able to sip and learn about wines from all regions of the world, not just one or two.

ZW: Why promoting wine education is particularly important in Asia?

DM:  For the health of the wine market, to really grow wine culture in Asia, we must be able to sip and learn about wines from all regions of the world, not just one or two!  My dissertation topic for my Master of Wine title was a comparison of wine education needs in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.  There’s no doubt that people are eager to learn more about our favourite beverage.

ZW: Can you present the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition? To which extent is it the first authentically Asian competition in the world?

DM: In creating this unique competition, we decided to use Asian judges only (except myself and one VIP international judge).  Our criteria is that the judges must be both Asian-born and Asian-based.  We gather judges from twelve Asian countries and eighteen Asian cities to sip, slurp and spit their way through hundreds of wines each day for a week.  Two unique features are that the judges may not be importers (so as to prevent any hint of bias) and that the competition is audited by KPMG.  In addition to international and varietal trophies, we offer special trophies for wines produced in China, Thailand, India, Korea and Japan.  And, we have trophies for five special ‘food & wine matching’’ categories, Best Wine with Peking Duck, Cantonese Braised Abalone, Kung Pao Chicken, Dim Sum or Sashimi.

Also, we promised to host events year-round to promote the winners, not just disappear once the spit buckets are emptied!  On 12-14 October is our “Test Your Palate” series (HK$250 per night, www.HKIWSC.com) where wine lovers can taste the 300-400 wines that were judged earlier in the day.  All wines will be lined up in exactly the same format as in the judging room. Attendees can choose the wines they want to taste, or taste the entire flight in a category (eg. dozens of Cabernet Sauvignons or Barberas from around the world) and compare their tasting skills with those of our expert panels.  We are also including games and challenges.

ZW: How the American wines are perceived in Hong Kong? And in the rest of Asia? And in China?

DM: Unfortunately California producers began to take an interest in the Asian markets only recently.  Australia, New Zealand and Chile are all export-oriented producers and so they had a timely focus on our high-growth markets.  Other factors include the proximity of Australia and New Zealand (their sense of being Australasian) and that the price value ratios we see from these countries could not compete with the perceived high-pricing of California wines.  The good news is that we’re seeing increased activity in Asia by California producers, but I hope they will continue the outreach long after USA markets rebound.  One mistake I have observed over the past two decades are “stop-start” efforts by USA companies (all types, not just wine).  Relationships and trust are everything in our part of the world, so a commitment to consistently visit the markets and support the brand is critical.

Views on California wines vary, but they seem to appeal to slightly younger urban professionals, perhaps because many attended University in the USA so developed a taste for America’s riper flavours.  I’ve lately seen the established Hong Kong collectors begin to snap up the California classics at auctions, so there is definitely a quiet shift taking place.

ZW: How do you think the wine market in Asia is going to change?

DM: We will become increasingly knowledgeable and caring wine consumers.  China’s domestic production will improve each year until it truly competes on the global stage.  With this growth and improved quality of China’s production, we’ll see an increased interest in wine throughout China.  I’ve seen this happen in the USA and Australia.  I’m sure!

ZW: Thank you Debra!

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One Response to “MEET THE MASTER OF WINE”

  1. raymond ringhoff says:

    like to network with Debra
    I am very interested in the china wine industry be back in australia this july have both australian and american wine experience been to a wine tour by Xian this past summer. will be back netx year to explore more of china’s wine region have goal wine tourism wine writing photography between china and australia have daul citizenship american and australian
    hope to hear from you debra
    i am continue my wine education

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