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A journey to Vietnam with a Palmer escort


What better life can there be than blending business with friendship and pleasure ? In just a few days, Thomas Duroux, CEO of Château Palmer and the team of our Vietnamese agents Tankhoa have multiplied the exposure to our respective wines through a series of perfectly orchestrated events in Hanoi and HCM city (Saigon)

In just 3 days, we met in Hanoi with the staff of Bacchus Corner for a staff training session of the enthusiastic team supervised by Baldwin Jehanno. Thomas and I were greeted by the entire team of the Métropole Hanoi, first of the new series of the Sofitel Legend flagship brand. GM Kai Speth
can be proud of his F&B team, Carl Gagnon, Charles Demange and their colleagues. The gala dinner was not only outstanding but also full of surprises, a bathtub used to chill down the wines had to be tested just prior to the dinner for photographic purposes and also to put us all in good spirit... The joint Palmer - Hugel dinner ended-up in good spirit (our 45° Framboise was served) and some of the local attendants even started a karaoke... in pure Vietnamese tradition ;-)

Next day was spent in Saigon, the economical capital of Vietnam. In the headquarter city of our importer Tankhoa, Dongkoi and ever efficient (and charming) assistant Nhu greeted us with the team of their retail outlet Bacchus Corner that has experienced a serious facelift since the last visit. The day's gala dinner was at centrally located Caravelle Hotel with guest chef Jean Baptiste Natali at the piano. Jean Baptiste runs l'hostellerie La Montagne, the Michelin starred restaurant next to the Mémorial Charles de Gaulle in Colombey les deux églises. The sold out event saw 65 happy gusts enjoying the carefully decanted wines of Château Palmer, including the 1990 vintage and ending-up with our Gewurztraminer SGN 2005, all specially airfreighted for the event. Good friend and ambassador for Hugel wines Eric Simard attended the dinner with his wife Nadège that took the photo of the "dream team" on
THE yellow Lambretta whose developing story has been featured on our Blog since 2007 and updated for the 3rd time...

Following Thomas Duroux's departure some more relaxing work took place, a most memorable boatride on the Saigon river organised by Hugel client Madlen Ernest that runs with her father Bonsai river cruise and uses Gentil on board their two ships. Some genuine  
local food after all the French wining & dining. Chef Jean Baptiste Natali giving a finishing touch to the seafood soup with a splash of our Riesling. We still enjoyed the rest of the bottle even so we had to use teacups to drink the wine... The boatride with Dongkoi and Nhu and the scooter ride thereafter will leave ever lasting memories of a visit to a country in rapid evolution but where the inhabitants show a sense of hospitality rarely seen elsewhere in Asia.

Never been to Vietnam ? Call your travel agent right now ! Eric Simard's Victoria hotels are saving a room for you !


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A dinner with friends at Melina and NK Yong


A visit to Singapore would not be complete without seeing longtime friends Melina and NK Yong. The memories are still vivid of NK's celebration 80...

This time Hugel wines were partnered with Château Palmer with its CEO and close friend Thomas Duroux  who had sent for the occasion some very special wines, of which his Historic Blend (as in the past, Clarets were "Hermitagés" by the adition of some Northern Rhône fleshy syrah). The menu was, as ever, simply spectacular.

No fewer that 35 friends were gathered for the occasion at Melina and NK's home, with guests spreaded around two impressive tables, the senior members at the head table and, waiting patiently for their "upgrade" one day, the junior table... Guest list included Shangri-La's new Hotel Manager
Thomas Schmitt-Glaeser. NK's cellar, part of it only lying in Singapore includes a rare bottle of 
1865 Palmer which is not even found at the châteaux cellar...

My very first experience dining at at Melina and NK's home goes back almost 20 years with the very missed Gérard Jaboulet. He had "warned" me that the best meal he had ever had in Singapore came out of Melina's kitchen. This still remains true to me until today. Its most gracious and generous host also remains a very special person with a huge heart called NK.
Thank you both for your continued friendship.


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In Taipei there is 101 and Jessie !


Taipei may not be the most amazing Asian city in terms of scenery even so Taipei 101 is the architectual pride of the city but its charm is elsewhere. Because of its history and the fact that in 1949 many nationalists joined the island from the Mainland, it offers one of the most diverse melting pot in all of China.

In the wine trade like in many business sectors the drive is in the hands of dynamic female entrepreneurs. Jessie Fang is one them and one of a kind, respected and connected like very few women in this elsewhere male dominated sector. Leading Brands is also a leader in educating Taiwanese to fine wines and certainly fully committed to ours, in a market still heavily influenced by the Gambei culture (thanks Mark for your article)

On the first evening of my arrival, Jessie gave me a memorable tour of the gastronomic street scene of Taipei, having previously double decanted a rare bottle of Argentinian icon wine Nicolas of Catena Zapata enjoyed with adequate glassware between the stalls, with a surprising "menu degustation" of duck from neck to nozzle. Even so wine consumption is growing rapidly here as elsewhere in Asia, wine is not yet in the scope of street eaters as we could notice from people passing by...

On the agenda of this 3 days visit, a lunch at dim sum specialist Din Tai Fung that is one of Taiwan's eating institution, dumplings are all prepared in front of the guests and ordered by ticking a form exclusively available in Chinese, the assistance of a local is therefore highly recommended... but juicy pork dumplings remain my absolute favourite ! In the afternoon, a trade tasting for wholesalers and wine lovers with a presentation in Traditionnal Chinese updated in record time by Sammy, Jessie's competant and dynamic assistant (pictured above right) followed by a dinner with some close GM friends.

On the last day, some visits of retail shops with Vincent, some within department stores, including Dean & Deluca and the familiar Costco with its popular eating corner whose menu includes a local version of pizza with Peking duck ! Jessie and her entire team does a fantastic job for the distribution of our wines in a market where white wines account for just 10% of the total wine sales.

The evening dinner was no less memorable, with a traditionnal Chinese new year banquet dinner menu including a succulent local version of pork shank with the pairing in a local traditionnal restaurant of our wines for a group of friendly and enthusiast members of the press. Our white wines did make us all happy !

Mission accomplished Jessie, thanks to you and all your great team !


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China's awakening, white (or golden ;-) wines makes you happy !


The pace of economic growth in China of 10% in a depressed World economic context looks very conservative when looking at the boom in the hospitality sector. Following Beijing with its Olympics, the focus is now clearly on Shanghai with the upcoming World Expo.

There seems to be no limit to new hotel openings, such as the Peninsula, perpetuating the standarts of excellence of its Hong Kong flagship property... only 2 Rolls Royces for the moment in front of the Shanghai hotel, but a quick walk on Nanjing Road and its amazing shopping centers shows the direction the city is taking: luxury brands are all there, loved the sign Dior opening soon, not far from the Ferrari dealership...

On the program of my visit, other than Shanghai, trade tastings in the booming city of Shenzhen where China's economic boom all started during Deng Xiao Ping's presidency, then Guangzhou (Canton) which will soon see the opening of the first Alsace restaurant called Alsace Village with Christophe Bilde and his brother in charge and soon to be a Hugel ambassadors in the city. A 4th city was the peaceful and scenic Hangzhou on the lake with a dinner event at the newly opened Plaza Royale hosted at their Thaï restaurant that opened just 4 days earlier !

There seems to be no limit to the apetite to grow in China and wines are indeed part if this growth. Yet, for many Chinese, wine is almost synonimous to red wine so our main challenge and focus now with our Chinese agents Summergate is to educate on the pairing of the "Chopstick's favourite wines" with Chinese gastronomy. A very encourageing sign is Shangri-La, one of the leader in the industry trying to establish its Shang Palace or Summer Palace chinese restaurants as their flagship restaurants. In Hong Kong's Island Shangri-La their restaurant was awarded ** Michelin !

Back to Shanghai for a few relaxing days in the latest opened ***** hotels, member of Leading Hotels of the World, the urban resort of The Puli, with a most relaxing stay in a such a vibrant city. From Martijn the GM to all the staff including Frenchman Cédric Martin all the team of the Puli went out of their way to make each guest feel they are their most important customer. This was certainly the case for Summergate's Dieter Grün's GM friends that we had the pleasure to entertain.

Can there be any better profession than making people happy ? We are an important part of the hospitality equation, wine is an essential part and offers its adequate "lubricant" properties ;-)

A quick walk through the traditionnal parts of Shanghai is another eye opener, revealing the amazings contrast between tradition and modernity, playing table tennis on a recycled door with a very solid net !

Off to Taiwan with at last direct flights to the island which clearly understands its interest to increase its ties with its mainland neighbour. More on that visit shortly...


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Enjoying Singlish and hawker center lifestyle


See the great article by Jenny in Singapore's Sunday Times the following weekend: Alsace meets Asia and also a nice report on Daniel Chia's blog

The city state of Singapore is unique in many respects. From overseas some may just know a sanitized opulent city which forbids the chewing of gums...

Singapore offers much more including some hidden treasures very much enjoyed by the locals. One of Singapore's amazing hospitality is also found in its multi cultural food scene right next to some of the best in the hospitality business, from airline to some of the World's finest hotels. One facet not to be missed is what they call Hawker Centers. Just had one of the best (and most charming) guide, local and fast growing local wine authority Jenny Tan (pictured above with friend Daniel Chia)

Jenny Tan is an independent wine writer, who contributes to the weekly wine review column for The Straits Times, the national newspaper. Born and bred in Singapore, she also works on the wine pages for several magazines in the region, such as The Edge, Appetite and Silverkris. Her next project: a wine blog catered for the growing Asian market. She is amongst the who's who of some the World's finest wine writers for Wine Business International

Some of these open air eateries are known and visited by tourists, but some are well kept secrets and need some local guidance such as Tiong Bahru market. Popular stalls include the pig's organ soup, and the roast meats but as we were there for brunch we settled for chwee kueh, raw fish salad and congee amongst others. Very hard to make a choice with such a wide variety od specialyies so patience is usually rewarded, the longer queues are an excellent indication... No luxury there, the tables are cleared in efficient style but what an explosion of TASTE ! No wine yet on offer (other than BYO) but in Singapore, things do change quickly and wine is fast becoming part of the local way of life.

One last tip, from Jenny herself, in preparation for your visit, you may like to acustom yourself with Singlish... I am willing to take courses ;-) Merci Jenny ! 


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In yellow livery with Victoria friend in Vietnam


Above picture taken on January 26, 2010 in Saigon with friends Eric Simard and Dong Khoi...

The story is just too nice not to be told...

It all starts in late 2006 when former Auberge de l'Ill employee, Franco-Vietnamese Eric Simard contacts us from Vietnam asking if we were interested to start establishing distribution in his distant Indochina market. Eric now head of Victoria hotels obviously knows the various importers and recommends Franco-Vietnamese Dong Khoi of leading importer Tan Khoa.

No later than two months later, our wines were launched in Vietnam with both of our friend involved. The above center picture was taken in January 2007 with Eric on his yellow Lambretta whose colour is exactly that of our labels... In Vietnam most transports happen on two wheels, including sometimes deliveries as on above right photo with Tan Khoa's boss taken in January 2008 on second market visit. My reaction: Eric, it would be so nice if you, our Hugel ambassador had our logo added to your yellow Lambretta.

And here we go, above is Eric Simard's Lambretta reunion with his two wine friends driven by our "Vienamese ambassador". Needless to say that Hugel wines are to be found at Victoria hotels.

This World of wines is really a very special one, where friendship blends so nicely into our lives and memories. CHEERS and THANKS !

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