[Exclusive interview]: Peter Kwok of Vignobles Kwok

The Asian Wine Personality Award event at Vinexpo Hong Kong 2018 was held on Day Two, May 30 to recognize the outstanding contribution and achievements by an Asian personality to the wine industry.

The winner was Vietnamese-born billionaire entrepreneur and investment banker, Peter Kwok, who bought his first chateau in the Bordeaux region 20 years ago and has since added six more, recently snapping up Chateau Bellefont-Belcier, a St Emilion grand cru. Mr Kwok currently heads the energy subsidiary of Chinese Investment Group, CITIC.

What does winning this award mean to you?

I was totally surprised! It is such an honour to win this prize and it tells me that what I have done in Bordeaux and Asia over the last 20 years is recognized and accepted by the industry.

Does the 20 years of Vinexpo Hong Kong growth and evolution into the show it is today reflect your own path of growth and success in the industry? 

The interest in wine from Bordeaux and elsewhere has grown tremendously in the Asian markets in the past 20 years, and the size of Vinexpo Hong Kong reflects that growth. This is especially true for Hong Kong after 2008, when then Chief Secretary Henry Tang pushed to abolish taxes on wine. This, compounded with the explosive increase in wine consumption in Mainland China, promoted wine as a major industry and created many jobs here in Hong Kong. As a result, Hong Kong is now an international centre of wine, with Vinexpo Hong Kong positioned as the must-go event for the global wine industry including our company.

What are the three key lessons you learnt in your business career before you became a wine owner, and how did you apply these in the industry?

There have been so many lessons that I’ve learned in my career. To quickly name three, I would say they are 1. Having passion, 2. Being consistent, and 3. Being persistent. These values work for any industry, but are especially important in wine, which is at its core an agricultural business. You need to be ready to put in the hard work for a long time, perhaps not see returns for years. One last lesson that I have learned in my career is to never underestimate the power of luck, and to accept that sometimes you simply cannot control everything.

What would you say to a young entrepreneur just starting out in the industry today?

You need to have passion. You must really love the industry, be willing to spend a long time, and not give in when you face difficulty. Stay on, work hard, and one day you will see good results.

How knowledgeable are Asian consumers about your product, and the drinks industry in general? 

There are strong difference between markets in Asia. If we just speak about East Asia, there are mature markets such as Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore, and fast-growing markets such as China. In the former, the industry dynamic is very well organized and it is important to work very closely with key professionals, in particular sommeliers, who can make purchasing decisions and influence customers. In growing markets such as China, Vietnam, Cambodia, we build our relationship with different levels of the distribution chain, from importers to distributors, to restaurants, and all the way to the end consumer, to ensure a wider and deeper distribution.

How do your marketing strategies to grow sales reflect consumers’ growing knowlegeability/awareness

The institutional marketing channels, such as major wine publications and wine critics, remain influential across most markets, but nowadays consumers look for a fuller experience when learning about wine. We therefore place a lot of emphasis on other forms of marketing, such as social media, participating in wine fairs, and providing a full-time wine tourism service for visitors to our properties.

How has the internet changed the way your company does business over the last 20 years? 

The wine business is now impossible to deal with without the internet. Social media and online journalists are a permanent priority in our marketing strategy. The internet has also completely changed our commercial operations. In the past, we can have different prices for different markets depending on local demand elasticity. Now there is total price transparency around the globe and anyone with a smartphone can check prices. Our prices must therefore be very clear and consistent, and our partners must respect our pricing policies.

What are your predictions for changes coming in the next 20 years?

We think the Chinese market will continue to evolve and become more mature and organized. China may soon become the number 1 market for French wines. At the same time, we also see other markets such as Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia becoming stronger.

As with other industries, technology will no doubt continue to change our business. We just don’t know how deeply and in which direction. The most important for us is to follow any trend that we think may be coming. For example in marketing, we expect bottom-up consumer opinions to matter tremendously very soon. Apps such as Vivino and Delectable are becoming more influential and will facilitate access to technical information, prices, and most important, wine reviews from consumers.

How is your business already anticipating these changes?

For distribution, our main priority is to have the best spread possible of our wines across different markets in the world. Participating in professional events such as Vinexpo Hong Kong allows us to build new networks in markets far away from us, which we can then benefit from. This year, we have met many people visiting from South East Asia, where we are keen to have a bigger presence.

About communication and marketing, we have our own team working everyday to build our image on various channels, including Facebook and Instagram. These are all long-term investments that will enable us to communicate the Vignobles K wine philosophy to both professionals and consumers. If you want to succeed in this business, you must not only make good wine, but also tell your story. You need people to recognize that your product is of high quality. The internet, with its rapid diffusion of knowledge and information, allows what used to take a lifetime to be done much quicker.

What are you most proud of, regarding your company?

I am proud of my management team and farmers, who have worked so hard to help build this company. I am proud of our product, especially when I see the smiles on the faces of customers who have tasted our wines. Most importantly, I am proud of bringing happiness to my customers.