Bacchus in Hong Kong: in the lee of a financial tsunami

Neil Pendock February 16, 2009 0

Nick Pegna is MD of Berry Bros. & Rudd Hong Kong and he’s not complaining – 40% per annum growth since the wine merchant to royalty opened up in Hong Kong eleven years ago. Business has been so good, he’s now 1/3 the size of the UK mother ship. Not bad for a business of 30 souls including two dozen Cantonese speakers (the up-market synonym for Chinese) one of whom is an agent in Shanghai who decants fine wine lovers down to HK for weekends of R&R. Business can’t be bad when you’ve Château Mouton 1945 in a display case for HK$ 248,000 (R323,000) per bottle.

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But not such good news for SA, as there is not a single bottle of African wine in the shop. “We’ve run out of Waterford and we had some Saxenburg four years ago.” But then brand is everything in HK and SA “trades on price-point rather than quality.” When even Austria and Chile are represented in-store, the absence of SA is an unfortunate black hole in this gateway to the east and hub of Asian fine dining and wine, connected to Johannesburg by a daily flight on Cathay Pacific. But then there’s no Chinese wine in the shop, either.

As to whether the credit crunch has led to stock dumping, Nick does admit to a lot of graymarket trading. “US sales of Romanée-Conti have hit a brick wall and retailers with an allocation are taking them up and selling stock on to the parallel trade. We have two parallel traders selling RC into HK at the moment.”

Nick Pegna

HK still has a thirst for fine wine as Nick mentions he sold HK$ 6.5 million over the weekend from a private British client who was rebalancing his cellar. With that great wine lover Bob Mugabe from Harare dropping HK$40 million on an apartment in the JC (Jackie Chan) Castle up-market development in Tai Po recently, the market for fine wine consumers that Nick currently estimates at 50 000, shows no signs of drying up.

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