Brit expat Gavin Jones knows a good drop when he tastes one. He shares his secrets with Expat Parent.
I arrived in Hong Kong with my wife, Sara, in 1992. I’d always been fascinated with the place and the moment we landed at Kai Tak, I instantly fell in love the city. Unfortunately it wasn’t so instant for Sara! At this point, I was working for an American retail and wholesale group as their food and wine buyer. Their stores were called USA&CO and stocked well-known American brands that weren’t readily available in Hong Kong.
I’ve always had a keen interest in wine and have been lucky enough to make a career of it. I started out on a management trainee programme with a luxury hotel group who very kindly allowed me to specialize in the wine category. Today I am director of Jebsen Fine Wines (JFW) and have been with the company for 22 years.
I’m lucky because I have a passion for what I do, with a product that I love. I think all jobs come with a degree of stress, but for me this is balanced with interesting daily activities in managing the business. People in the wine industry tend to be great, fun loving, passionate personalities with a common goal of wanting to share their love of wine.
JFW is an independent importer and distributor of wines in Hong Kong and China. We’re different to many wine companies in that we also invest in wineries and brands around the world so have a balanced portfolio of agency and owned brands. We represent global brands such as Bollinger and Penfolds, as well as award-winning brands such as Twinwoods Estate from Margaret River in Western Australia. We also import and distribute S.Pellegrino, Bacardi Martin spirits portfolio and have recently developed a Sake business.
We distribute to restaurants, hotels, clubs, wine stores, supermarkets and duty free, and we also have a team dedicated to private and corporate clients, delivering wine direct to people’s home or office.
Variety is the beauty of wine. Country, grape varietal, wine making method; all give you a multitude of options to consider. Personally, I enjoy wines from around the world but am always happy to come back to the classic regions of Burgundy and Bordeaux.
When it comes to tasting, mostly I’m looking for a wine that tastes good and is worthy of another sip! These days nearly all wines are pretty well made. First we check a wine has no obvious faults – the most common being cork taint. Assuming the wine is fine, I’m looking for brightness in colour, freshness on the palate with good balance – fruit/oak/tannins/acidity. And finally the length of the wine (how long the flavours of a wine last on your palate after the wine has been swallowed or spat) will give you a good indication of the overall quality.
We’re spoiled for choice in Hong Kong. Not only is there zero duty on wine, we have the broadest selection of wines I have seen, more than any other city in the world. Hong Kong also has a growing number of genuine wine enthusiasts who enjoy collecting wines. Here, Bordeaux and Burgundy dominate. With mainstream consumers, New World wines are very popular here, particularly Australia, Chile, California and New Zealand.
We have a sizeable wine distribution in China, but so far have not invested in any wineries there. I wouldn’t rule this out, but I don’t see a rush to make this happen. I’m convinced China will be producing very fine wines in the future, it’s just a question of time.
What I have loved seeing over the last few years is the growing affection for rose wines from Provence. We launched Chateau D’Esclan’s Whispering Angel in Hong Kong around ten years ago, when nobody was drinking rose. It’s now one of our best sellers. Take a magnum of Whispering Angel to a party and you’ll have plenty of friends!
As I work in Causeway Bay and travel extensively, I like to spend my weekends in Sai Kung, often on my boat. We’ve had so many great nights in the restaurants around Sai Kung “square” and we’re currently also enjoying St Barts, Clearwater Bay’s first restaurant, which is just down the road from us. We’re members of Clearwater Bay Country Club and I like to hit a few golf balls on the new Par3 course at the weekend. I just need to convince Sara and the girls to take up golf!
When my three children were younger, we would often camp on the local beaches together with our dogs. Unfortunately as the kids have got older, the camping trips have got fewer. We spend every July in Donegal, Ireland where we have our holiday house. The water is a completely different temperature but the girls still go boating – in full wet suits. I stick to the golf course with Jack.
I truly believe Hong Kong is the best place in the world to live. Great people, vibrant city, geographically stunning and with a pleasant climate. But above all it’s the people that make it work – such great friends and colleagues.
On the downside, it’s a 12-hour flight from Heathrow. My son Jack is studying at a university in the UK and my daughter Caitlin will join him in September. So unfortunately we will all be spending even more time on planes!