Pandemic and border closure have spelled more pains for Hong Kong’s wine market, as trade data shows the fine wine hub’s role is quickly diminishing, a somewhat thorny and sensitive subject that will split wine crowds in Hong Kong.
The data released by Hong Kong government showed that the city’s wine imports in the first nine months of 2020 dropped by 23.2% in value to HK$ 5.1 billion, while its volume tumbled to 25.49 million litres, a year-on-year decrease of 20.9%.
The set of data would be read with caution and degrees of understanding as the coronavirus pandemic decimated on-trade wine sales and drove away deep-pocketed visitors.
Despite Hong Kong’s branding of a wine hub, reality is otherwise.
Re-exports of wines during the period have significantly dropped due to months of border closure since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Its wine re-exports from January to September in 2020 only amounted to HK$ 600 million, about 11% of the city’s total import value.
This is a further drop from 2019’s 17.1% amid months of social unrest and 2015’s peak at 44%.
The slippery slide has been a long time coming.
Months of protests in 2019 deterred mainland tourists who normally would add fine wine to their luxury shopping list. As a result, since the start of mass protests in June, visitors dropped over 40% in the second half of the year, according to data released by Hong Kong Tourism Board. Hong Kong’s wine imports in value dropped 26.4% and another 19.6% in volume over the previous year.
In 2020, border closure to contain Covid-19 spread from mainland China means cross-border wine trade virtually grounded to a halt, particularly for illegally smuggled fine wines such as grand cru classe Bordeaux, Burgundy and blue-chip wines from Napa and Italy.
Logistically, faster customs clearance and preferential treatment at more Chinese ports particularly in Hong Kong’s neighboring Guangdong province also means wineries and producers would opt to enter China directly.
But of course, Hong Kong’s wine re-export recess also reflects a softer demand in mainland China, due to slower economy, trade war and the pandemic.
As Liv-Ex in its 2020 fine wine report noted that a question over the future of Hong Kong as a fine wine hub is also observed, the idea of tapping into Hong Kong as “a gateway to mainland China’s wine market” is unfortunately fallacious.
More and more wineries that we have talked to are rerouting for this reason.
With international travel and trade not close to be normalized, Hong Kong’s wine trade perhaps need to look inward to reinvent and imagine itself.