Spotlight on Paulo Pong

A true legend of the local industry talks about his vision… and the vital nature of Vinexpo HK in boosting the business

Paulo Pong – Managing Director of Altaya Group International Limited is somewhat of a legend in this part of the world… We asked him what his vision is for the future of the wine and spirits industries in this region…

I have only been in the industry for 15 years, but we have seen many cycles and it’s a more challenging period at the moment, but I see a great future for Asia – especially China and Hong Kong. There are more wine lovers than ever today. We see an increasing visibility of wine and spirits almost everywhere and there is a great flourishing restaurant scene.

Please tell us a little more about the development of your wine and restaurant businesses.

Without going all the way back, we now do wholesale, distribution and also retailing under different brand names. We have a brand called “et cetera” (or Etc) and we have acquired another one called “Rare and Fine” which we run under the Altaya group portfolio. We are also active online, and we also have restaurant activities, which are managed by a different group of colleagues. Altogether there are around 20 outlets in Hong Kong, ranging from the basic every day neighbourhood café, all the way to Michelin star restaurants. I get involved in the development side of the restaurant business, but I don’t get involved in the operations. However with wine, it’s pretty much 90% of my time.

You have, among other awards and merits, the “Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole” for your contribution to the development of the French Culinary Arts & Wine Culture. How does your “multicultural” outlook help when it comes to running your businesses?

I had the great fortune to study in Hong Kong up until grade 9, then I went to the United States, and even before I went to the US my parents exposed me to all kinds of different cultures. My appreciation of wine came from our family meals. Somehow the idea and also the taste were infused into my body at a very young age, so food, wine, culture and the arts have been in my blood since day one. My little internship in Bordeaux back in 2000 with Château Pétrus and also Cheval Blanc was a great experience. I think of wine as being part of the arts. My mother was a painter and studied art. She didn’t go professional, but she painted a lot and she taught me how to appreciate things like the beauty of a painting, or sculpture. So every time I open a bottle of wine, every time I visit a château or a domain, I see it as almost like going into a museum. There is a lot of history, there’s a lot of craftsmanship. It’s the ‘art form’ that I like, and it’s consumable… so what could be better than that?

How important is Vinexpo when it comes to Altaya’s regional and global marketing and promotion?

I could put my other hat on – which is with the Hong Kong tourism board. I am part of the board. I think it brings an amazing range of people here, and I think Hong Kong is really now the centre of wine in Asia if not one of the key centres in the world. Vinexpo brings a lot of excitement to the market. We have people flying in from all over the world. It brings together all the different aspects of the wine world – the château owners and winery representatives and the buyers and the drinkers… and there are so many events going on in Hong Kong this week! We alone have many events happening. So it’s great… it’s exciting! We’re very happy to have the show here every two years.

What have been your main aims at this year’s show?

We are a slightly more mature company, so were not here to hunt for new brands. We are here to consolidate our portfolio and also solidify some of our relationships. I guess some of our colleagues may be here looking for new contacts, but we are here to further improve our relationships with existing suppliers