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Hong Kong foodie festival raises wine hub profile
by Staff Writers
Hong Kong (AFP) Oct 27, 2011

The Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival opens Thursday with organisers and exhibitors hoping to cash in on the explosive growth in demand from wealthy mainland Chinese for the finer things in life.

With 211 wine exhibitors this year, up from 172 last year, organisers at the Tourism Board are hoping the festival's third annual edition will further establish Hong Kong's status as Asia's wine and fine dining hub.

"The level of interest here in Asia and particularly mainland China is impressive," said Wine and Dine Festival exhibitor Thomas Jullien, from the Bordeaux Wine Council of France.

He said sales of Bordeaux wine in Hong Kong and China had doubled annually for the past five years.

"It goes with the development and growth of China's people. With higher spending powers, people have a heightened interest in high-end, prestigious, iconic wine like ours. Bordeaux is a leader in China."

The four-day market kicks off a series of other food and wine events including the annual International Wine and Spirits Fair and the WineFuture 2011 seminar next month.

Hong Kong became a regional wine centre after the southern Chinese city's government abolished duties on wine imports in 2008, helping the market expand beyond a handful of local connoisseurs and expatriates.

And it's not just food and wine that China's newly wealthy consumers are buying -- sales in the broader luxury goods market are surging on the back of Chinese demand, despite the uncertain global economic situation.

Asia remains the driver of growth for the luxury goods sector, with a 25-percent jump in sales expected this year, according to a study by Bain & Company released earlier this month.

Sales growth should hit 35 percent in mainland China this year to 13 billion euros ($17.8 billion), and Bain & Company said there is "no sign of slow down from the Asian giant."

Including purchases made abroad, Bain & Company estimated that Chinese customers (including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan) account for more than 20 percent of global luxury consumption.

Hong Kong has emerged as the world's third-largest auction centre after New York and London. Sotheby's autumn sale in the city sold more than $410 million in luxury goods, wine, art and antiques earlier this month.

Christopher Racey, owner of small French winery Rousseau de Sipian, which produces 70,000 bottles a year, has come to the Wine and Dine Festival for the first time.

While new to Asia, he said he was looking to sell half of his winery's annual production to Asian-based buyers.

"We are here to introduce wine to the Asian market. Asia is a prospering and important market for French wine. The North American and European market is very flat at the moment," he told AFP.

Richard Buller, the owner of an Asian winery which produces 100,000 cases a year, said he visited the city every other month.

"There is no doubt Hong Kong is an international wine hub. Doing business in the city is easy. It is a stepping stone into the vast China market as well," he said.

"The reality is Asia is the emerging market. It is one of the few areas in the world with real potential growth."

Earlier this year two cases of 1988 DRC Romanée-Conti in pristine condition were sold for $106,359 each at auction in Hong Kong, setting a world record for a case of the wine.

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