Since the Hong Kong government lifted its 40 percent duty on wine in February 2008, Hong Kong has become the world capital for wine auction, now selling more fine wines than London and New York together.
“When we started lobbying in the 1990s, never did we imagine this could happen,” says Greg De’Eb, general manager of Crown Wine Cellars. He adds, “The amount of business we were turning over and our estimates didn’t match what has happened now and come true. Since the zero taxation policy, everything has exploded.”
De’Eb opened the company’s first cellar in Hong Kong in 2003 with Jim Thompson, chairman and owner of the Crown Worldwide Group. The company now has three sites in Hong Kong.
In the vaults of the Crown Wine Cellar at Deep Water Bay Drive Bunkers, two bottles of 1869 Château Lafite worth 162,000 yuan each are guarded closely. They are the most expensive bottles of wine in the world.
“On a pure wine market retail basis, just for the rare and fine wine market, we in Hong Kong are probably the centre of the world right now,” says De’Eb. His Crown vaults are used by such prestigious clients as Sotheby’s auction house.
The manager of Sotheby’s Asia wine business, Robert Sleigh, believes Hong Kongs’s world-class wine storage facilities reflect its status as the wine world auction capital.
“The wine vaults have expanded rapidly,” Sleigh explains, “You have the large industrial scale and the small collector model. The infastructure here is good. It has expanded over the last few years, they know how to ship it, and they know how to store it.”
The Hong Kongers know how to guard it, too.
Modern Wine Cellar, a 3,800 square-meter storage facility in the New Territories, uses a Chubb’s burglar alarm system, closed-circuit television, fingerprint access control, and other advanced methods to keep the wine safe. Each wine is also bar-coded to protect ownership.
“We deal with an elite group. You get a lot of people in finance, lawyers, doctors, they are our typical demographic,” says Sleigh.
Like most of the luxury market in Hong Kong, expansion is driven by money from mainland China, where decades of strong economic growth has created a new breed of wine investor. In the mainland, imported wine is taxed at 45 percent.
While Hong Kong has emerged as the world’s finest wine venue, it already had a strong tradition in wine collecting.
“The foundations were there,” says De’Eb, “We have a depth of knowledge and a resource of collectors and knowledgeable people here, it was a success waiting to happen.”
photo credit: crown wine cellars