Born in Montreal, Canada, JC Viens has traversed many continents to land in Hong Kong, a place where he had spend the past two decades in. Having first set up his own company in Hong Kong doing export business at the age of 25, it was however wine that anchored him to the city. A gourmand and a storyteller, JC is known in the wine industry in Hong Kong and beyond for tirelessly championing Italian wines.
A holder of the WSET Diploma Level 4, he is a WSET Certified Wine Educator and Vinitaly Academy Italian Wine Ambassador. He also worked as managing editor of Spirito di Vino Asia. In January 2019, he was appointed Greater China Ambassador for Franciacorta and Master of the Hong Kong Delegation of the “Ordine dei Cavalieri del Tartufo e dei Vini d’Alba”.
Having spent over two decades in Hong Kong and travelling frequently to mainland China, JC earlier this year decided to move to Italy with his wife Maria for a new chapter, promoting Italian wine from its heartland. In this interview, he reflects on the past two decades in Hong Kong, sharing his experiences of promoting Italian wines and his favorite Italian restaurants in the city.
Q: How would you describe your past two decades of experiences in wine education and promotion in Hong Kong & Mainland China?
A: A very enriching experience. Certainly, the greater China region offers tremendous potential ahead yet we must remain humble and patient as the region is extremely complex. Perhaps the most important issue that I learned is to forget my own paradigms and strive to understand Chinese consumers from their own point of views. What works in the West very rarely works in China.
Q: You have been promoting Italian wines in Hong Kong for years. In your experience, what do you think producers/marketers got it wrong when talking about Italian wine? What experiences can people learn from it?
A: Generally, I do not think Italian companies have China “wrong”. In fact, the trends show that Italy is holding pretty well and in fact making positive inroads into the markets while Others are suffering serious downward trends. I believe that other countries benefited from being the first or from being at close physical proximity to the markets of greater China. If anything, I believe that Italian companies must stop worrying about the complexity of their product and embrace it. Italian producers should focus less on the need for “education” and spend more resources on “inspiration”. That is where they are at their best. Italian wines are the ultimate expression of the Italian lifestyle and, I believe, everyone loves the Italian lifestyle, including Chinese consumers. The Italian lifestyle emulates sophistication, good taste, and the art of living. When Italian producers demonstrate how their wines embody these three aspects of the Italian lifestyle, they will see their numbers increasing with a vengeance.
Q: What is it about Hong Kong market that surprises you the most?
A: The seriousness and dedication of its wine lovers.
Q: The year 2020 has been challenging for wine market in China. What advice would you give to wineries that are still planning to invest in this part of market?
A: To dedicate more efforts and resources on B2C activities. It is important at this stage in greater China to inspire consumers. Producers need to build emotional connections with wine lovers first and foremost, not only with the trade.
Q: What are your top three favorite Italian restaurants in the city?
A: Cipriani is certainly my favorite. Tosca is excellent and so is 8 ½ bombana. We must also highlight the incredible dedication of Gianni Caprioli with Gia Trattoria and Giando but also via his Mercato by Giando which brings into Hong Kong fresh produces from small producers from all over Italy. The quality is excellent throughout the entire range and I am glad that the products are now distributed throughout the pacific gourmet chain all over Hong Kong.
Q: What will you miss most about Hong Kong?
A: Certainly the intensity of the city and its ability to constantly transform itself. But most of all, I will miss the camaraderie that exists among members of the knights of Alba Hong Kong, a fraternity of Piedmontese wine lovers that I led for the last 18 months as well as that of my beloved Hong Kong Wine Society. I certainly hope to replicate these groups when I reach my base in Verona later in 2020.