The ambassadors of Italian wine in the world: Hong Kong by Francesco Marchio
The Italian wine in Hong Kong: a place where is crucial to be in. Traditional big names drive the sales, but indigenous grape varieties is the new leading trend.
We interviewed Francesco Marchio, one of the 15 Italian Wine Experts in the world, the highest certification of the Vinitaly International Academy. We spoke about his globetrotter career in the world of wine and the current state of the Hong Kong market, “one of the most developed and prestigious wine markets in the world”.
First, we would like to know more about your passion for wine and your job in the sector, that brought you traveling around the world and reach Hong Kong.
Good morning. I feel lucky since I was born and raised in Piemonte, where food and wine have an important role in the local culture. My career started working as a barman in Torino and then I moved to Piemonte Olympic mountains in a luxury hotel where I was in charge of the beverage, including a wine shop where we were serving our guests with a great selection of wine by the glass. At the time I had already completed my diploma with A.I.S. Piemonte. After few years working in Italy between Piemonte in winter and Emilia Romagna during summer, I decided that it was time to step up in the game and I accepted a job in the UK as Sommelier at 2 Michelin Stars restaurant. During my time working in the restaurant, I completed the WSET level 3 and lately the Diploma and and I was very lucky that my teacher Michael Palij MW became my boss and mentor and I started to work for him for his wine distribution company specialised in Italian wines. Finally, when a new company was formed in HK to import quality Italian wines, I was asked to move there to develop this very new market for Italian wines and this was 2012.
You are an Italian Wine Expert, can you tell us something about this path?
Living abroad I understood the importance of always putting new goals in your career and accept new challenges. Through a very good friend of mine I came across the Vinitaly International Academy, led by one of the most energetic and professional woman I ever met Stevie Kim, and they were organising a VIA course in HK so I decided to be part of that and eventually I became IWE. To become an IWE or IWA you need to have not only a great love and knowledge for Italian wines, but also embracing the Italian culture at 360 degrees.
The faculty members Sarah Heller MW and Henry Davar are simply one of the most knowledgeable and best teachers I ever met, and I was lucky enough to work with them as a guest faculty member for the last edition of VIA Verona 2021 last June.
How last year challenges changed Hong Kong wine market?
Actually, the change already happened before the Covid-19.
In 2019 we had a full year of protest in the street and unfortunately all the market slowed down simply because it was not very safe to go out for dinner during these days. Then the pandemic hit hard again, especially hotels and restaurants with the city closed to the tourists, considering that we had only 3.6 million tourists in 2020 against 65 million in 2018...that is a huge difference, and it was devastating for the city economy.
The pandemic surely improved the online sales and developed new sales platforms. HK market is a quite traditional market and cash, and cheque are still a very frequent payment methods, the pandemic surely helped to change this.
Another aspect is the growth of home wine consumption during the restaurant closure days. In HK wine is mainly consumed at the restaurant but now more people are buying wine to drink at home and that is a positive change for our business.
Can you describe how Italian wine is perceived in Hong Kong market and what is its positioning?
Italian Wine is very popular these days and the popularity increased in the last couple of years. The HK market is very demanding, they simply want the best wines and the best vintages especially for Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello and Amarone those are the top wines consumed from Italy together with the well-known Super Tuscan. The new younger consumers and Sommelier are now exploring the indigenous grape varieties of Italy, and this is definitely the new trend in the market, there is a lot of room here to improve and educate the consumer especially promoting wine and food pairing with local cuisine.
Can you give some suggestions to Italian producers willing to export their wines to Hong Kong, which customer segment to address, strategies to follow, channels to use?
My suggestion is to look for a professional distributor able to communicate their wines. It is important to explain and let the clients taste the wines with wine dinners and dedicated events.
This is a market where there are no big volumes of wine to sell but where it is important to be present, being one of the most developed and prestigious wine markets in the world. HK may offer the opportunity to open new doors also for mainland China market but that is another story....