Hongkongers love their wine. Indeed, a recent survey suggests that 15 per cent of the world's rare and fine wines is owned by Hong Kong collectors. Since the government abolished import duty on alcohol in 2008, wine imports have risen dramatically; last year saw a massive 65 per cent increase alone. The city is already the world's largest wine auction centre, overtaking London and New York with auction sales reaching US$229 million in 2011. In the space of just a few short years, Hong Kong has truly become the premier wine hub of Asia.
But where are we supposed to store it all?
In the old days – before the elimination of the 40 per cent duty on imported wines – those of us who bought at auction did so overseas, our resulting acquisitions going into storage at a facility in the country of purchase – usually in Europe – before it would be shipped to Hong Kong at a time of our choosing. For those of us who wanted to actually enjoy the wine, and not hang on to it for selling at a later date, this was far from practical. And while there were a tiny number of storage facilities in Hong Kong, the cost of housing it here could be prohibitively expensive.
This has all changed. Since 2008 the wine storage business in Hong Kong has exploded, with dozens of new storage centres coming online, many of which are located in former factories and warehouses – the only types of buildings that offer the kind of space that such businesses require.
Such has been the boom in wine storage that the Hong Kong Quality Assurance Agency (HKQAA) has partnered with wine industry experts and the Hong Kong Government to launch the Wine Storage Management System (WSMS) certification in 2009, in order to highlight those facilities that provide and maintain standards that are comparable to international practices. These standards typically ensure against deterioration of wine quality during transportation, and include stringent controls on temperature and security.
One such WSMS-certified facility, is Modern Wine Cellar, which is located in Tai Po and has been operating since July 2011. Headed by Managing Director Anthony Mak, Modern Wine Cellar is, as its name suggests, a state-of-the-art centre that takes wine storage to another level. At 41,000 square feet it is thought to be the biggest in Hong Kong.
"After the Hong Kong government eliminated duty our mind was made up – we would develop the best place possible in which to store wine," says Mak, who has over 20 years' experience in the wine and spirits industry after lengthy stints with Seagram, the former distillers and Vinfolio.
Modern Wine Cellar's efforts are impressive. The company uses CCTV, fingerprint access control and other security devices to keep the wine safe, while a computer-controlled system ensures a constant 12.8 degree temperature and 60-70 per cent humidity environment – the perfect conditions for storing wine over time. Just as importantly, each wine is bar-coded to protect ownership. A superbly furnished tasting room, kitted out with an array of entertainment amenities, adds to the allure.
"It's a great environment," continues Mak. "Aside from the controlled temperature and humidity conditions, the location of Modern Wine Cellar has advantages too. Tai Po is a quiet area: there are no production plants or excessive industry here, which can cause vibration and therefore unsettle the wines in storage."
Modern Wine Cellar is more than just a place to store wine, however. While there is no membership structure as such – customers need only pay for the wine that is actually in storage – the company has a wide range of wine for sale, mostly made up of excellent French vintages, and customers may also sell their wine directly to Modern Wine Cellar or through the company on a consignment basis. Regular tasting events are planned for the near future.
But it's not just Hongkongers that have been attracted to the services offered by Mak and his professional team. "We also have many Japanese and Korean customers," he explains, "many of whom moved their wine to us from storage in Europe. They like having their wine stored closer to home. It makes it much more accessible."
Accessibility, as well as service, says Mak, is central the ethos of the company.
"Our goal is to provide the best possible service in the most convenient manner," he says. "We can offer same day delivery by refrigerated van and have a dedicated wine team to handle our customers' requests and enquiries. For us, service is key."
Cheers to that.
For more information about Modern Wine Cellar, including storage rates, please visit www.mwchk.com or call (852) 3912 0023
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