California wine bar chain opens in Hong Kong

Posted on April 6, 2011

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Wine bars aren’t new to the metropolis of Hong Kong but the concept behind California Vintage, a California-themed chain of wine bars slated for expansion in mainland China, Singapore, Japan and Taiwan, has struck a chord with locals and ex-Pats alike. Located on Wyndham Street, a chic enclave in Hong Kong’s Central District, California Vintage features the wines of 22 California family winemakers and serves up 90 wines by the glass. Chief Branding Officer Susan Darwin who resides in San Francisco said the concept sprang from a desire to raise the profile and demand for California wine in Hong Kong and offers customers a “high-tech, high-touch experience.”

The company opened its flagship operation in January and introduced comparative wine flights, a form of service that is commonplace in the U.S., to an eager audience in Hong Kong. The operation also emphasizes food and wine pairing and serves an expansive menu of small-plate California cuisine paired with specific varieties and wine styles. “We’re marketing a California lifestyle,” said Darwin “with a holistic concept that makes a connection between wine, food and ambience.” Customers can explore their options from iPad menus that provide instant access to detailed information about the wine in their glass or sample at will from a Napa Technology dispenser using prepaid Smart Cards. The concept also includes an online retail store and wine club that offers incentives and VIP service to frequent buyers.

By adopting a unique business model of partnering with wineries, California Vintage is educating consumers around its partner brands and developing those brands in new markets. “We chose family-run wineries that showcase the diversity of California’s growing regions and offer a broad range of price points,” said Darwin who works directly with the wineries and provides information about how their products are performing. By-the-glass prices range from $7 to $35 USD and aromatic whites like Thomas Fogarty’s Monterey Gewurztraminer, Lange Twins’ Clarksburg Viognier and Three Wine Company’s Russian River Valley Riesling are top sellers at California Vintage this month. “We’re seeing a seasonal shift towards lighter varieties and styles like Rosé but our highest-priced wine – the Tierra Roja Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon at $35 USD a glass – continues to perform well.”

Winemaker Steve Cass who owns Cass Winery in Paso Robles just returned from a two-day stint at the wine bar where his wines were the featured wines of the week. Cass poured his “Rockin’ One White” Roussanne/Marsanne blend, a Grenache and “Flying Nymph,” a Grenache, Syrah and Mouvedre blend, for customers whom he found to be well traveled and well educated. “The majority are young women and they’re very similar to our customers here at the winery,” he said. Cass partnered with California Vintage after hearing a presentation made by industry veterans CEO Michael Sadak and President and COO Ralph Roberts at a board of directors meeting of the Family Winemakers Association. Cass, who worked for Charles Schwab prior to becoming a winemaker, made an initial investment of $35,000 in cash and wine in the venture. “Customers at California Vintage are really interested in the way wine works with food,” he said, “they are eager to embrace wine as part of a lifestyle.”

California Vintage has partnered with these family-owned wineries:

Acorn Winery (Russian River Valley)
Anaba (Sonoma Valley)
Bonneau Wines (Sonoma Valley)
Cass Winery (Paso Robles)
Chentella Winery (Central Coast/Sierra Foothills)
Fleury Winery (Napa Valley)
Fritz Winery (Dry Creek Valley/Russian River/Sonoma Coast)
Hope Family Wines (Paso Robles)
Kachina Vineyards (Dry Creek Valley)
Lange Twins Winery Vineyards (Lodi)
Peachy Canyon Winery (Paso Robles)
Ramp B Cellars (Multiple California)
Rock Wall Wine Company (Multiple California)
RustRidge Winery (Napa Valley)
Sand Hill at Durell Vineyards (Carneros)
Silver Mountain Vineyards (Santa Cruz Mountains/Santa Lucia Highlands)
Stuhlmuller Winery (Alexander Valley)
Thomas Fogarty Winery (Santa Cruz Mountains/Central Coast)
Three Wine Company (Russian River/Contra Costa)
Tierra Roja/Mellowood (Napa Valley/Fair Play)
Venge Vineyards (Napa Valley)
Yorba Wines (Amador County)