Misha’s travel journal from our recent visit to distributors and customers in SE Asia
Langkawi, at just over half the size of Singapore, is a Malaysian island known as the Jewel of Kedah. It is home to a myriad of bird species, spectacular waterfalls and dense rainforest and was a perfect start to our business trip! The island was recognised by Unesco in 2007 as a site of unique geological heritage so it’s not surprising some of the most prestigious hotel brands are dotted around the island.
We settled into our accommodation at Casa del Mar – a laidback Spanish inspired hotel on Cenang Beach known for its incredible service – and it has a handy location just ten minutes from the airport and close to our distributor! Just to get things off to an appropriate start, we met with our very entrepreneurial distributor Alfred Low, of SH Maju, and his wine portfolio manager, Benjamin Chung, for a delicious lunch of local favourites along with a bottle of Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé! Not only does Alfred and family run one of the islands biggest food and alcohol distribution businesses but he also builds shopping complexes and has nearly completed building a new hotel!
Our activities in Langkawi included an afternoon of training with the F&B team from the Ritz Carlton Hotel which was really good fun as they were very engaged and really enjoyed learning more about New Zealand wine. We returned to the Ritz Carlton the following evening to host a special dinner to which Food & Beverage Managers of many of the 5-star hotels on the island were invited (Four Seasons Hotel, the Danna, Casa del Mar etc), as well as Yap Lip Seng, CEO of the Malaysian Association of Hotels and Sivaji Vaithilingam – a journalist from Penang. (See Sivaji’s article after the dinner here ). The location of the Ritz Carlton’s Beach Bar and Grill is superb and we couldn’t have had a more picturesque location to enjoy our degustation dinner with perfectly matched wines.
During our stay on Langkawi we were also delighted to catch up with Derek Gomez from the Westin Langkawi Resort & Spa, and Indra Mohan , who’s the Director of Food & Beverage at The Datai Langkawi. In fact The Datai Langkawi was the first hotel to list our wines in Asia when their New Zealand wine selection was curated by Curtis Marsh over ten years ago. We are delighted to still be working with this iconic hotel which was recently named one of the ‘World’s Greatest Places’ by Time Magazine and has just undergone a major refurbishment. The hotel’s idyllic location also earned them a place in National Geographic’s ‘Top 10 Beaches’.
After a few days in Langkawi, we flew to Kuala Lumpur to meet with our distributor, CK Chew, of Finlux, and commence a busy couple of days involving customer meetings and tastings and two wine dinners! Our first wine dinner was at a Macanese restaurant called Fat Tea where it was interesting to see how well our Pinot Noir paired with the spicy food – it’s the first time we’ve paired wine with cuisine from Macau. It’s always a pleasure to visit the stylish hotels in KL and the St Regis is one of the most amazing! It was also fun to return to Mr Chew’s Chino Latino Bar, which is part of a stable of restaurants including the renowned Troika Sky Dining, which are owned by the talented duo, Eddie Chew and Christian Bauer. We also met up with Zoe Gan, Sommelier at Entier Restaurant at Alila Hotel, visited the new Vogue Lounge with their incredible rooftop bar and met up with Yin-How Wong, the owner of the Vintry Group of wine bars are restaurants in Malaysia – all of whom are great supporters of our wines and list them currently.
Our second wine dinner was at Joloko, where we were able to see what a difference a year has made, as on our visit last year, we held an informal wine tasting at the venue just prior to it’s official opening (and before it had actually been completed!).
Rick Joore, the owner, has made a big impact in a short time with this Caribbean-inspired venue winning Best Restaurant Bar in KL in its first year operation! Offering a 5 or 8-course degustation on the night, our wine dinner was a great success and it’s easy to see why this place is winning lots of fans and lots of awards.
We were excited to have the New Zealand Trade Commissioner, Simon Hearsey and his wife Holly join us for this evening too.
We flew off to Singapore on a Friday and I had planned a special dinner with Andy at the newly re-opened Raffles Hotel. After an extensive (2 & 1/2 years) refurbishment, this luxurious colonial-style hotel absolutely sparkles with its acres of white marble floors. Over 25 years ago, Andy proposed to me at Raffles Grill, so it’s an important building in our personal history, and so it seemed like the perfect venue to celebrate our first date some 29 years ago! We dined in the Tiffin Room (as sadly The Grill has given way for a celebrity chef restaurant) but the Tiffin Room was also a favourite and the newly inspired interior of this restaurant didn’t disappoint!
Whilst in Singapore, our first wine dinner planned by our Crystal Wines team was at the 1919 Waterboathouse with canapées and Limelight Riesling served on the rooftop and then a menu of French cuisine matched to our wines. Our second wine dinner at the Singapore Recreation Club with more than 70 members and guests attending a very enjoyable (and noisy) evening!
Whilst in Singapore we also met up with Linda Ong from Bistro Duo who serves our wines and the lovely Diorra who owns Le Rouge wine shops with her husband Christophe – wine shops which have a very carefully selected range of wines and who have long been fans our wines. We even managed to fit in some wine training with the team from Dimbulah which has various outlets on the island and currently pouring two of our wines at their outlets. It was nice to be in Singapore at this time of year because the city is completely covered in Christmas decorations! As someone quite rightly pointed out to me, it’s actually quite odd that Singapore gets into the Christmas spirit so enthusiastically given that less than 20% of the population consider themselves to be Christian! But Singaporeans love to shop so I guess they just take advantage of any retail opportunity lah!
Andy and I were away for just over two weeks and enjoyed our trip in Asia (as we always do) but we were also glad to return to our clear skies, clean air and sense of space and calm – as well as two dogs who were delighted to return home from ‘adventure camp’! Travel is great but it’s all a case of having the right balance in one’s life!
A few more pics!