Just recently Yasmin, Anne, and I were a little stunned to see that a large wine distributor in Hong Kong had pretty much copied our web design for their own online store. We are sure it wasn't purposeful from the owner of the company, who we've met before and is quite personable, but it's still a rather disingenuous move from whichever staffer was hired to revamp their e-commerce store. They not only borrowed heavily from our design, but also our copy, and stylistic tone.
That in itself hasn't really bothered us. Ever since we launched our website in 2013 we've seen many other wine merchants in the market adapt similarly with improved e-commerce stores, which is inevitable, and also better for local wine lovers in general.
But what does bother us is how ever since a few other like-minded wine importers and Cork Culture started working exclusively with organic, biodynamic, and natural wines, many of the big importers in Hong Kong have started to stock one or two wineries that fit this "category", after their bosses started noticing that customers in Hong Kong are actually receptive to buying organic wine.
While many may see this as something positive, I find it rather cynical. It's the equivalent of how a macro beer producer/distributor like Anheuser-Busch InBev is swallowing up as many craft breweries as it can, purely in order to secure a larger cut of the pie. If all the big players eventually start distributing the most famous natural winemakers alongside their more conventional large estates, then there's little room for distinction in the market.
That's why more often nowadays you see a large wine importer with a portfolio that is all over the place stylistically—they choose what works and what sells, but it's a decision made in the boardroom, not in the heart.
If consumers don't care where their wine is from as long as it is good, then the same few companies that already dominate the local market will continue to grow unchecked, at the cost of small, dedicated importers. Less competition amongst merchants is terrible for consumers, and Hong Kong's wine industry is vibrant because of how many different kinds of wine are available in the city.
From the very start of our company in 2013 we've focused on wines that are made strictly by low intervention methods. We don't stock wines that aren't made either sustainably, organically, biodynamically, or naturally because that's our humble belief. And neither are we absolute natural wine fanatics—we recognise that SO2 (which distinguishes natural and biodynamic wines) is essential in wine to a certain degree.
But we'd be lying to ourselves and to our customers if we sold Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux out of one hand, calling it fine wine, and then sold natural wine out the other hand, all while maintaining our stance on pushing low-intervention wine.
For us, it's simple, since our belief has always been that great wine is grown, not made. Biodynamic, organic, and sustainable winemaking isn't a trend that we suddenly support just because it's starting to become popular in Hong Kong.
While we are glad to see that more and more importers, and hence their customers, are exposed to sustainable wine, it's frustrating to hear merchants proclaim their love of good winegrowing, when for years all they've done is push plonk upon their customers.
Our apologies for writing what may have come off as a little defensive. But we find it necessary to establish that what we are seeking to do with Cork Culture isn't a marketing gimmick or a simple business opportunity formulated from recognising a hole in the market. From the very beginning we've never been in this for the quick buck, and more than anything we value the support we get from customers who believe in what we do.