In 2007, Vancouverite Lysanne Tusar moved to Hong Kong to start her first entrepreneurial venture. She didn’t have any friends in the city, but she was convinced it was the right location.
“When I was doing research, I saw these stats on wine and Asia. Asia was clearly the place to go and Hong Kong is a global wine hub.”
With three other investors, Ms. Tusar founded Eighth Estate Winery, which has become a phenomenon in the wine-obsessed town.
Hong Kong is a major wine-trading city. In 2008, it eliminated taxes on alcohol, something that enhanced its free port status. For Ms. Tusar’s fledging company the territory’s excellent logistics were also essential. Eighth Estate imports frozen grapes for its wine making, since there is no local grape-growing culture and real estate tends to be densely urban.
The 8,000-square-foot winery is situated on the third floor of an industrial building, a 25-minute drive from Hong Kong’s central business district. Eighth Estate makes 60,000 bottles a year, with the capacity to triple that volume.
Ms. Tusar says her company is focused on the local market and that its current production level is just enough to support demand from Hong Kong individuals and restaurants.
“For us, the last three years have been great,” says Ms. Tusar, who was inspired by her father’s many entrepreneurial ventures and decided she wanted to strike out on her own after a corporate marketing career in the United States and Canada with brands ranging from Olympus to Pepsi and Starbucks.
“Wine is a fascinating beverage – it involves creativity and passion, and as an industry it is always evolving,” she says.
The Eighth Estate name was picked for its graphic branding possibilities and because in Chinese culture eight is a lucky number, the kind of charm a start-up label might need. Her bestseller at the moment is a 2010 Australian Grenache, which retails for HK$320 (about $40 Canadian). Eighth Estate wines sell for between HK$120 and HK$380.
The bulk of sales come from purchases direct from the winery. Weekend tastings, an online store, as well as private and corporate events, have proven to be popular channels.
Eighth Estate has also offered companies or personal wine-lovers the opportunity to buy barrels for between HK$25,000 and HK$75,000. For that, a customer gets 280 bottles, which can include a personalized label. This has also attracted clients from mainland China and Taiwan.
Ms. Tusar is exploring the next steps for the company. She is looking into possibly starting new facilities in other Asian cities, as well as figuring out how big she wants the company to get. Being “boutique” has allowed Eighth Estate to experiment and be creative.
“As far as sales and perception go, it has been quite good for the company the last three years,” says Ms. Tusar, a University of British Columbia graduate. One of the aims is to earn a reputation for quality.
“I’d like to see Eighth Estate become known for the reliability of its quality. We’ve done well as a novelty, because we are a ‘wine made in Hong Kong.’ Next, I want our wines to become award-winning.”
Special to the Globe and Mail
Alexandra A. Seno has written about economics and business trends in Asia since 1994. She is a regular contributor to Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune and The Wall Street Journal Asia. She lives in Hong Kong.