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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Debra Meiburg MW

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Hong Kong’s Women of Wine Festival (WoW) wowed audiences in Hong Kong, attracting a record crowd of 500 guests, who sipped on over 100 wines made by female winemakers from around the world, and enjoyed a variety of inspirational seminars, wine tasting workshops, networking, pop-up events and more.

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Hosted by Master of Wine, Debra Meiburg MW at the exclusive new The Murray, A Niccolo Hotel, this was the first official International Women’s Day event in Hong Kong, ahead of the official day on 8 March.

To launch the event, media and VIP guests, including Deputy Consul General and Commissioner for Economic & Commercial Affairs, Spain, toasted the official #PressForProgress theme by pressing a barrel of “grapes” onstage to officially open the event.

As part of the glamourous opening ceremony at Hong Kong’s Women of Wine Festival(WoW), Veuve Cliquot has announced the Hong Kong launch of its prestigious Business Woman Award. Now in its 46th year, the award runs annually globally, and has recognized more than 350 women in 27 countries.

Retail in Asia met Ms. Debra Meiburg MW to know more about her career into the wine industry, the WOW festival, and the wine industry in Hong Kong.

RiA : How did you start your journey into wine?

Debra : I grew up in a grape-growing family in Sonoma County, California. It wasn’t our main business, but I’ve always been surrounded by vineyards and wine. Career-wise, I didn’t start off in the wine industry though — I began as an accountant! (You’d be surprised how many ex-accountants are in our local industry!).

When I moved to Hong Kong nearly 30 years ago, I was working at PriceWaterhouse. I knew the local wines from Sonoma and Napa Valley region, but I was certainly not familiar with what was available in Hong Kong at that time (all French!), so I stuck to beer. Then I decided to take a wine class. I ended up taking all the wine classes I could possibly take here and eventually earned the Master of Wine title (MW). This was nearly a decade ago!

Soon after achieving the MW, I founded Meiburg Wine Media (MWM). Since then, MWM has grown into a multi-faceted company working with many sectors of the local and international wine industry. Our primary focus is supporting and driving the growth and spread of wine culture in Asia. We do this via our media, marketing and educational products, platforms and services. Our wine PR, marketing and events agency arm offers a full suite of services to wine regions and drinks-related brands from around the world, especially those seeking to expand their reach and influence in Asia.

We have a dynamic, multi-skilled team of 18 staff, and client portfolio of more than 20+ global wine regions and a number of high profile brands.

Education is at the basis of everything we do. And it’s my first love! Our wine school – MWM Wine School, by Debra Meiburg MW – was launched last year, and offers training and wine education to the wine industry, and consumers of all different levels, including offering the internationally recognised WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) programs.

As wine industry has been manly dominated by men, how was it climbing up to the podium of renowned names in the industry?

My motto when it comes to thriving in a male-dominated industry is – be oblivious! Whether man or woman, if you have something interesting to say, and speak with authority and passion, people will listen. Personally, I’ve encountered very few barriers due to my gender in this industry.

While international winemaking and production has been very much dominated by men (though this is changing), today’s wine industry in Asia, in fact, comprises a dynamic mix of men and women – from sales and trade, to F&B, education and media, we are fortunate to have many strong women in leadership positions. Part of the motivation for creating the Women of Wine Festival was to showcase our local female wine industry leaders, as well as featuring women from a cross-section of industries.

You are very active in education, and particularly attentive to empower the future women leaders. What’s your message for the young professionals in the wine industry and in all industries to succeed?

Be tenacious – keep quietly trying, but don’t give up. Be interested – and be interesting! Say yes – take risks! Harder yet, say no (well, I’m still learning this one!). For women, particularly those in male-dominated industries, be a woman! Don’t be afraid to embrace your feminine side, show emotion, empathy and engage. While planning our Women of Wine Festival, one of Asia’s top headhunters said to me that today’s most successful leaders are those that embrace and employ qualities that we’ve traditionally associated with female qualities. It works!

In the wine industry we focus a great deal on the senses – the structural elements of wine: aroma, sweetness, acidity, alcohol, tannins and body. These values hold true for all of us in life and our careers. Be sure the choices you make in life are fully satisfying to the senses and meet the quality factors in wine – which as a Master of Wine student I memorized as BLIC: balance, length, intensity, complexity.

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Source : Debra Meiburg

RiA : What’s behind the idea of Women of Wine Festival?

Debra : The long-held idea behind WoW was two-fold. First and foremost, it’s a celebration of International Women’s Day! We wanted to highlight the achievements of women of wine globally, and also toast to the incredibly talented women in Hong Kong excelling in a range of industries.

Second, we wanted to create an “new” and “unique” event to connect ambitious, lifestyle-conscious and successful women, who may have an interest in wine (but probably aren’t regular wine event attendees) with global wines made by female winemakers, and the many wonderful female wine importers in Hong Kong. Through the variety of interesting and diverse lifestyle elements of the festival, WoW offers wine importers and consumers a new way to start a conversation about wine, and help develop their interest further in a relaxed, unintimidating and fun setting.

RiA : What are the major trends based on the different demographics?

Debra : “Sparkling wine and rosé are big trends now, universally and in Hong Kong. Natural wines and organic wines are also experiencing a huge surge in popularity globally. While Hong Kong is slower to adopt international wine trends than many other markets, we are seeing a gentle reflection of this locally.

One of the key producers of natural wine (often in the form of the super trendy “amber” or “orange” wine) is Georgia – the “birthplace” of wine, 8000 years ago. Fermentation via traditional clay vessels, qvevri, is the traditional method of making natural, amber wines in Georgia, but this practice is even being adopted elsewhere in the world now.

Our PRC neighbours have thoroughly embraced the Georgian Wine trend, with growth in this new market astonishing! Georgian wine export figures to China (the wine world’s most coveted “new” market) have taken many in the wine world by surprise – from 898,000 bottles in 2013 to 7.6 million bottles in 2017. MWM has worked with Georgia in Greater China since 2013, and it shows what a new entrant to the market can achieve with the right marketing, branding and education strategy.

Talking more about mainstream wine trends in Hong Kong – it is important to note Hong Kong is a diverse wine market – we have Chile to California, Mendoza to Malborough, Barolo to Barossa Valley, Japan to Jura – and everything in between! But this city still maintains a love affair for all things French – food, fashion, and wine. While initially a very strong Bordeaux market, we’ve certainty seen a surge in demand for Burgundy over the last few years. This is particularly for high end and the collectors market. The younger demographic in the entry level and mid-range markets are much more open to experimentation with wine. Both origins and styles. Yes, we are a red wine market, but this is slowly changing. And luxury Champagne, of course, is very strong here!

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RiA : How do you see the wine positioning vs. beer brewery for new generations?

Debra : There will always be a market for both – I think after 8000 years of known production, wine is here to stay! I am pleased to see the growing international interest in craft beer and wine (and spirits for that matter!). There have always been small artisan producers, but the thirst for authenticity of place has seen “mass produced” out of favour these days across the beverage sector. Big brands are certainly diversifying, and investing in product development, as well as investing in these smaller, independent brands. For the consumer, this is great – diversity and choice reigns!

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