Debra Meiburg’s Guide to the Hong Kong Wine Trade / Sacha Alexis Lichine’s interview in

Sacha Lichine @ Château d’Esclans 9th Sept 2011

How long have you been on the Hong Kong market, and how have you seen it develop since your wine has been here?
We have been with our current distributor for a little over 18 months, and sales have developed quite substantially. We started off with a program of about 250 cases, and this year we are already up to about 800 cases. The brand seems to be doing very well in Hong Kong and worldwide. We are looking at a figure of around 1000 to 1500 cases in Hong Kong alone next year.
How has living in Hong Kong affected your marketing strategy for your brand?
Well, for starters we are on First and Business Class on Cathay Pacific, which has certainly helped. There’s no question that the best thing in Hong Kong is to have somebody at street level working the market. What we have done in Hong Kong is to spend time knocking on doors and helping the distributor establishing relationships: we are by the glass in many of the top hotels and major country clubs in the territory.
Have you noticed a difference in the success of your brand since you have moved to Hong Kong? Do you think this is somewhat attributable to your presence here?
The events we have thrown and getting out into the market and doing dinners makes a big difference. There is no substitution for ”shoe leather” and getting out there building close relationships with buyers. If you’re not out on the street shaking hands and making friends and introducing your product, you’re not going to get anywhere.
What did you find most challenging about the Hong Kong market when you first arrived? What insights have you gained since then?
Well, we are dealing with a wine colour (rosé) that had virtually little to no respect. I must say that rosé Champagne has helped us considerably. The challenge is changing the image that rosé has traditionally had – to drink rosé was never particularly chic. So it was tough, and re-branding the image of the product itself and changing people’s perception of rosé wine was imperative. Additionally, Asian men don’t really drink rosé so the challenge was to get the product into the mouths of potential drinkers and let the product speak for itself.
What single factor do you think has contributed most to your success on the Hong Kong market (popularity of your country of origin, unique branding of your own product etc.)?
The major success was convincing many of the fine hotels in Hong Kong to pour rosé by the glass, such as the Mandarin hotel. Now they seem to keep it on their wine lists all year round and the wine is, in Hong Kong, no longer seasonal. The category of rosé wine has grown considerably in Hong Kong, and the quality of our product is something that people appreciate. Visual appeal is also important, if you go to Spoon you can get Chateau d’Esclans by the glass, and they serve it out of the three litre bottle.
What is the biggest risk you see in the future for your brand in Hong Kong? Who do you think will be your biggest competitors?
Our biggest risk is running out of stock! Our rosé is very popular here, and every year consumption increases. But we don’t see much down-side as we have a premier top quality product, and we are probably the market leader in Hong Kong for rosé.
Do you think your approach to marketing wine in Hong Kong is applicable to all wine brands, or specific to wines of your price level/country of origin/style?
For this type of product at this kind of level, I can’t think of any other way to market it. Marketing supports sales….it doesn’t create it and you can do as much advertising and marketing as you want, but if you don’t have the distribution sorted, nothing is going to happen. The more you see it on wine lists and by the glass, the more exposure your product has at a premium level – we stay out of retail for the most part. Overall, it takes a lot of hard work!