Back in Asia – Hong Kong and Tokyo

Andy’s update on the recent trip to Hong Kong and Tokyo

It seems like a long time since Misha and I were in Hong Kong. It’s one of our favourite cities and boasts some of the best restaurants and hotels in the world. The timing for this trip was based around a plan for some amazing events – Ming Court, RHKYC and The Peninsula Hotel – but also included a long list of customer calls. The first morning was a reminder of how tropical weather can change plans. At 4am a massive thunder storm rolled in and a “black rain” warning was issued. This means more than 70mm of rain per hour is expected to fall and schools, transport and businesses close down. That’s more than ¼ of our Central Otago annual rainfall – per hour! Thankfully the warning was lifted late morning so we were able to go out with our distributor, Jebsen Fine Wines, and visit some customers!

Dry ice spills from the chilled kale - Ming Court
At the first wine dinner, the range of Misha’s Vineyard wines were matched to some of Hong Kong’s most highly rated contemporary Cantonese cuisine at the two-Michelin star Ming Court restaurant located within the 5-star luxury hotel Langham Place, a 665-rooms hotel on 42 levels in Mongkok, the heart of Kowloon. We knew the Sommelier, Zachary, who had stayed with us in New Zealand and we were expecting a pretty amazing food match to the wines, but even those high expectations were exceeded with some of the dishes. My stand-out was a match of Misha’s Vineyard ‘The Gallery’ Gewürztraminer with a delicate Pigeon Curry, but many of the other dishes were simply amazing and matched really well with the wines. It was great to see Zac and his lovely girlfriend Joyce again, and to be treated to a tour of the kitchen that prepares such an incredible array of food. It was fantastic to watch the team of chefs assemble such a wide selection of ingredients and then combine them into dishes that tasted and looked spectacular.

RHKYC Dinner
The following night we hosted a wine dinner for 88 people at Hong Kong’s oldest and most prestigious club, The Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, which is also one of the largest yacht clubs in the world. This was special – not just because being invited to present wines there is a highly sought-after and rarely-obtained privilege, but also because it was packed with really enthusiastic members, eager to know more about New Zealand wines and especially those from Central Otago. I had dined at the Compass Room once before, over 22 years ago, and the elegance of the restaurant and amazing view across the Victoria Harbour of Hong Kong remains one of my most memorable experiences – and it has not changed. Misha presented some statistics and history on New Zealand wines and a little about Central Otago. After a couple of sumptuous courses we then shared some stories about Misha’s Vineyard and talked about our connection to the Cantonese from the gold rush days in New Zealand over 150 years ago. Although many of the RHKYC members are Western expatriates there was a lot of interest in the connection between the New Zealand gold rush and the Chinese.

Friday night we joined two of our fantastic sales team from Jebsen Fine Wines, Vega and Florence – for a dinner at Gold, a Michelin star contemporary restaurant at the LKF Hotel that we had visited for a wine tasting during the day. Star Chef Harlan Goldstein took charge of ordering and simply adorned the table with some breathtaking dishes starting with a white asparagus and egg yolk dish that I still cannot believe can be prepared so delicately. A light touch of the yolk with a fork dissolved it into the sauce made with the egg white underneath the asparagus. I am sure there is no way I could ever get an egg yolk to balance that perfectly on two stalks of asparagus without it breaking! We finished, after several courses, with a complete set of deserts – laid out on a platter so the four of us could sample some of each.

Lunch at Felix, The Peninsula
Our final event was at The Peninsula Hotel – a landmark that’s synonymous with Hong Kong and home to the world’s largest Rolls Royce fleet boasting 14 Rolls Royce Phantoms all painted in the hotel’s signature green. The Peninsula has recently embarked on a year of milestone celebrations to commemorate eight and half decades since opening their doors in 1928. As part of the celebrations, a special five-course Misha’s Vineyard Wine Luncheon was held in the hotel’s award-winning avant-garde restaurant Felix, designed by the French celebrity designer Phillipe Starck. Felix sits at the top of The Peninsula and it’s the first time they have opened the restaurant for lunch so it was a very special treat for us and the guests as it offers the most superb dress circle view over Hong Kong. Once again the food was simply spectacular. It is sometimes hard to comprehend how much effort and care goes into each dish prepared in these top restaurants.

We have had a long association with The Peninsula since our first meeting with Beverage Manager Francis Lo, when we were “interviewing” the trade to ascertain which was the best distributor in Hong Kong. Since that time our wines have been regularly listed and poured at the hotel. Last year when we met with Dheeraj Bhatia, who joined as Chief Sommelier moving from Raffles Hotel in Singapore, he suggested a Misha’s Vineyard Wine event at the hotel and we jumped at the opportunity. Little did we expect that the amazing Felix restaurant would be opened especially for our luncheon on a Saturday with some of the hotel’s most loyal customers as guests.

Signing Bottles - Kimijima Ginza
From Hong Kong we flew up to Tokyo for two days of trade visits, wine tastings and a really fun night at the NZ Wine Bar. While Japan is not a huge market for wine – it is growing and the interest in New Zealand wines keeps increasing. We have been working with our distributor in Japan since 2009 and have some great restaurants, bars and retailers that list the Misha’s Vineyard range of wines. We started our visit with a meeting at Two Rooms Grill & Bar where along with “Kiwi Breeze” blog writer Hiro, we met the sommelier team and restaurant manager Nathan Smith, a kiwi who has been in Tokyo for a number of years. We then held a Misha’s Vineyard tasting event at a new Ginza outlet of the famous “Yokohama Kimijimaya” sake and wine retailer. As more people arrived for the tasting the noise level increased, many questions were asked about NZ wine, and Misha and I were drawn into many small groups for photos as cameras clicked. Misha was then surrounded by excited purchasers (mostly women) to sign their bottles of wine. The evening was a lot of fun and Misha has suddenly become very popular on Facebook with a large following from Japan!

Sarah, Andy, Misha, Tomoko & Yoshimi
After spending the next day visiting customers we arrived at NZ Bar – a New Zealand wine lovers institution in Tokyo run by Sarah and Tomoki – two of the biggest fans of New Zealand wines in all of Japan! The walls of NZ Bar are inscribed with signatures of many of New Zealand’s most well-known wine makers and owners – including Misha and Olly from a prior visit in 2010. The bar was packed with people who had come to taste Misha’s Vineyard and that included one of our vineyard harvest workers from vintage 2011, Ken, who took a 3-hour train trip up from Osaka to join in. It was a fantastic night– a perfect blend of stories, laughter, good wine and food and many silly poses judging by the crazy set of photos that were posted after the evening!

Our final day was a little slow to get started given the late finish the night before but we provided an update training on our wines to the team at our distributor Apurevu.

Fun at NZ Bar
How many bottles??

We then visited The Peninsula in Tokyo to present our wines to the buying team – hoping to extend the relationship we already have with the The Peninsula Hong Kong.The Peninsula in Tokyo is again an impressive hotel with amazing views across Tokyo from “Peter”, The restaurant on the top floor.

It was a fantastic trip – busy, tiring and lots of fun. We hope it won’t be too long before we are back in those wonderful cities.