““The nature of the customer base in Hong Kong is unique. It has a wonderful mix of western expatriates, pan-Asian residents and local Chinese” “

Susan J Darwin, Partner and Chief Branding Officer, California Vintage

Just 14 months after the opening of its flagship wine bar in Hong Kong, California Vintage has announced plans to open more than 10 additional locations in Hong Kong and Guangdong.

Using Hong Kong as its regional headquarters, California Vintage plans to expand to other places throughout Asia, including Singapore, Taiwan, Korea and beyond.

“We have seen huge growth in the demand for wine in Hong Kong. Recent statistics show that Hong Kong by far leads Asia in terms of per capita consumption, but this is still pretty low compared to levels in Europe and the US. There is huge room for further development of the wine sector in Hong Kong and the region,” Susan Darwin, the company’s Partner and Chief Branding Officer, said.

California Vintage is a branded chain of wine bar restaurants which are introducing the Hong Kong market to California wine in an environment that is engaging, entertaining, educational and exciting. Its wine programme features an exclusive, diverse and rotating selection of more than 90 wines, all of which are produced by its 22 California winery partners.

Recipes for success

Complementing the wine programme is a seasonal pairing menu which offers a selection of fresh, wine country-inspired dishes using California-sourced ingredients. An interactive, tech-enhanced environment includes smartcard-enabled Napa Technology dispensing machines and info-loaded iPad menus.

“Hong Kong and China are very brand-conscious societies and, since most of our wines are not familiar to local consumers, we have all of them available to taste so that our customers can try out various selections before making any commitment. We also invest heavily in educating our staff about wine, and several of them have obtained advanced certification from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET),” Darwin said.

Another secret of California Vintage’s success is that it sources its wines directly from its winery partners. Since this means that there is no exporter, importer or distributor involved, cost savings can be passed on directly to customers. For those seeking to further develop their wine knowledge, California Vintage also offers ongoing public tasting programmes and events.

“The nature of the customer base in Hong Kong is unique. It has a wonderful mix of western expatriates, pan-Asian residents and local Chinese, many of whom have a good level of disposable income and aspirations for fine lifestyle products and services,” Darwin explained.

Support from InvestHK

The wine bar concept has taken off in the US but has room for growth in Asia, Darwin said, adding that there is also an opportunity to improve knowledge of California wines that sit between the premium “cult” brands and those sold in supermarkets. “As we were planning the roll-out of our concept, Hong Kong topped the list of the best city to launch to correct this misconception. The government and the business environment are very supportive of inbound investment, and of course, the abolition of wine duty since 2008 certainly played a big part in our decision,” she said.

Darwin appreciated the level of support that InvestHK provided before and after the opening of its first store in Hong Kong. In addition to the Tourism and Hospitality team based in Hong Kong, InvestHK’s San Francisco office provided support from the company’s early planning stages. “We met two of our winery partners at events organised by InvestHK. The department also issued a press release to its media network to announce our opening in January last year. We continue to get guests and other potential business partners referred to us by InvestHK,” Darwin enthused.

Expanding in Hong Kong and beyond

California Vintage recently signed a franchise agreement with a strategic partner, RGL Holdings Ltd, to open and operate California Vintage-branded winebar restaurants throughout Hong Kong and Guangdong. According to Darwin, “There are a lot of differences between operating in Hong Kong and Mainland China, including tax, import requirements, labels of proof, business practices and so on. Hong Kong has been western-friendly for many decades and makes it far easier for us to navigate the waters.”


Fast Facts: California Vintage

  • Headquartered in California
  • Offers a selection of 90 wines
  • 22 California winery partners
  • Wines available half-glass, full-glass or bottle, as well as for retail sale