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Not just red or white: How one wine retailer is transforming Hong Kong’s palate

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Cellarmaster Wines, based at theDesk in Sai Wan, is raising the bar of drinking culture across Hong Kong while increasing accessibility, affordability and non-exclusivity

By Sitara Samtani

What are the first words that pop into your mind when you think about drinking in Hong Kong? ‘Overpriced’? ‘Lan Kwai Fong’? The sometimes excessive reputation of the drinking culture in our city often leaves you either shelling out big bucks on the likes of crafted cocktails or champers, or staying at home, quietly nursing your two-for-one bottles of Shiraz. When it comes to wine, though, gulping down whatever’s convenient and happens to be red doesn’t really do justice to the drink often described as ‘bottled poetry’. But who says it has to be an either-or situation? Cellarmaster Wines doesn’t think so. In this city, which so often spins out of control like an olive in a martini glass, Cellarmaster Wines’ team of five believes a happy medium between a good night and a good price can be struck. And Andrew Kemeny, founder and owner of Cellarmaster Wines, tells us how his business is doing just that…

Cellarmaster is a wine delivery company that sources bottles from across the world and delivers to homes in Hong Kong. Kemeny and the team rent an office at theDesk co-working and events space in Sai Wan, where they can take advantage of the community network that theDesk provides. Here, they work to raise the bar (pun completely intended) of drinking culture across Hong Kong by increasing ‘accessibility, affordability and non-exclusivity’.

“It’s very important for us to understand the culture of our market, so then we can integrate and interact with it.”

The team tell us it all began when Kemeny came to Hong Kong in 2013. He’d grown up in Australia, where he worked in the wine and spirits industry, helping to run his family business, Kemenys Food and Liquor. He built up the firm, which delivers wines to traders and individuals across the Land Down Under, and it gained national recognition so Kemeny decided to use his successful model and open up a similar venture in Hong Kong. And so Cellarmaster was born. In 2013, Kemeny and his team set up a home delivery service to cater bottles of crisp rosé and sweet prosecco to doorsteps. And since then, Kemeny says that the “big influx of people moving into this small area, has created a pool of opportunity. You really get to dive in and become a part of the community.”

Though Cellarmaster has decisively set up shop in Sai Wan and is well-established in the watering hole districts of Hong Kong, the team now has the rest of the city in its sights. The company has worked its way through homes in Central and Tsim Tsa Tsui and is now approaching the New Territories, a relatively untapped market. And it’s not just a simple matter of extending the current model, either. Kemeny explains that this is because ‘the style and perspective of drinking is quite different locally when you compare it to Western countries’. So the company is taking time to learn about the culture and the market to ensure they can cater to the unique demand in our city’s most northern districts. “The New Territories is a huge market. But they have a different taste over there,” says Kemeny.

At the same time, Kemeny makes it clear that no one glass holds a better drink than another. And he also makes it clear there is more to the business than just marketing to thirsty customers. Rather, he says: “It’s very important for us to understand the culture of our market, so then we can integrate and interact with it.” This was no different when they first expanded to Hong Kong in 2013, says Kemeny. “We started off with selling traditional wines,” he says. Soon enough, he adds, the team learned that in order to survive in this vibrant city, they would have to differentiate themselves from the myriad wine retailers offering familiar bottles of Bordeaux and Grenache already saturating the market. So they diversified and began to develop a retail portfolio in lesser-known, handpicked, quality wines and spirits. Untold gems that may be off-the-beaten-track but a pleasant surprise to the market’s taste. While this may seem risky, it’s one of the company’s main strategies. After all, it was Wordsworth who said that one has to ‘create the taste by which you are to be enjoyed’.

“Right now, French wine is the alcohol of choice in Hong Kong but we’re hoping to break that mould by bringing a diversity of drinks here.”

The joy and surprise of finding these liquid gems, which don’t have to cost a leg and an arm, is exactly why the team says they’re sticking with Kemeny and the wine industry. One team member shares: “We’ve just found Bill Byron’s Organic Shiraz Cabernet.” She tells us that when Kemeny first introduced them to this wine, which retails at $88 a bottle, she thought it was ‘absolutely magical’. “It’s just one of those rare gems you find.”

Kemeny says Cellarmaster is now dedicated to introducing a new variety of textures, regions and vintages to Hong Kong in the hope of transforming the city’s palate. “Right now,” he says, “French wine is the drink of choice in Hong Kong.” Recognising this pattern in our city’s drinking habits, he says that Cellarmaster ‘is hoping to break that mould by bringing a diversity of drinks here’. So far, the team has introduced wines and spirits from 23 regions across the globe to fill domestic wine cabinets and shelves with top-notch libation by delivering to homes. Your tipple of choice can be ordered by the piece or by the dozen.

With steep competition flooding the market, Kemeny knows Cellarmaster has to bring its A-game. So, they’re working on bringing a whole new range of products when they relaunch their website in the coming months.”It’s going to have more functionality and a greater selection,” Kemeny says. “And that is for both people in our neighbourhood and people hours away,” he says. So watch out, Kowloon and beyond: Cellarmaster Wines will soon have enough to fuel the entire city. We can’t wait to say ‘cheers’ to that!

Cellarmaster Wines, in brief:
Name: Cellarmaster Wines
Business: Wine and spirits retail and delivery
Formed in: Hong Kong, 2013
Business Location: theDesk coworking and events space in Sai WanFree bottle of wine on first purchase
You can order your next bottle online from Cellarmaster Wines through cellarmasterwines.com and upon your first purchase, get a bottle of wine free! To keep up to date with their latest products follow them on Instagram @cellarmasterwines and Twitter @cellarmastershk.

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