The new Vietnam is also about new consumptions. And wine is one of them. Who else to talk about wine than the French. We meet with Mathilde and Axel, two French people under 30, who are working in the wine industry.
We had the chance to talk with them about the Vietnamese wine market, characteristics, growth and evolution. We also talked about a new project they’re launching: My Wine Box Vietnam.
How did you get involved in Vietnam?
Mathilde: The first time I came here was before my study, in November 2014. I spent a year in Ho Chi Minh City as a bar manager. I came back here later for an end-of-year internship as a journalist. It ended last November and I decided to stay there.
Axel: I arrived in Vietnam a year ago, convinced by Mathilde that there were many opportunities here. I spent this first year working for a wine importer. I found this job in two weeks where my main responsibility was to sell wine to bars, hotels and restaurants. The company had exclusive partnerships with some producers and I could take advantage of it in order to sell.
What are your backgrounds with wine?
Axel: I’ve been working within the wine sector for 6 years now. I studied the wine market at university. I started my work experience in Paris with a nice wine shop brand which has stores located in the nicest streets of the city. Then I worked for a winemaker in La Vallée du Rhône, in the Southwest of France. I oversaw the whole sales process to hotels, bars and restaurants. Plus, I did some export for the brand.
Then from export to import through my Hong Kong experience. I was working for a wine importer. And thanks to my previous knowledge I’ve been able to adapt well. Unfortunately, the Hong Kong company couldn’t get a visa for me to stay… That’s why, with Mathilde’s advice, I decided to come in Vietnam. Today and through those experiences, I’ve had the chance to develop a larger perspective of the wine sector.
Mathilde: Even if I love wine, I can’t say that at the beginning I was a wine expert. I’m more specialized in communication and marketing. But I try to widen my knowledge and I learn a lot through Axel. And the more I learn, the more I’m excited about wine.
What’s the best way to learn more about wine?
Axel: By practicing. The only thing you can do is trying new wines, new tastes. It’s also about knowledge of the product. You need to understand the processes, to know about grape varieties and where they are grown.
But you know, it’s difficult to become a complete wine expert. Even the expert of experts might know something like 20% of all that is to know about wine. There is way too much to learn in this sector. So many regions which grow wine, so many grape varieties, so many winemakers…
Tell us more about the basics of the Vietnamese wine market.
Axel: The Vietnamese wine market is complicated for two main reasons: because of import duties which are very expensive for wine and because of the cultural gap between Vietnamese taste and the wine itself.
To give you an example, if a bottle of a French wine would cost $10 in France, the selling price at a Vietnamese restaurant’s table would be $80. First because of import duties which can go up to 120% and through the fact that each intermediary (importer and restaurant) will each take its share before you can drink it.
Vietnamese are not used to drinking wine. Notice that Vietnam is the third biggest market for beer worldwide. So wine has difficulties finding its place on the table and fight that bigger player. Therefore, Vietnamese taste is difficult to match with wine and the price of it doesn’t help.
We can also add to those difficulties the price of launching a wine import company. Getting the license will cost you around $50,000. Moreover, each reference will have its own tax rate and you’ll have to make costly wine analysis (mandated by the Vietnamese State) for each wine.
Nowadays, the process is so complicated that it would be easier for someone who wants to import wine to go through importers than import wine by himself. It would save money, time and possible customs problems.
What about the growth of the Vietnamese wine market?
Axel: The wine consumption is small but very interesting. And since I’ve been here I’ve already witnessed big developments in wine consumption. The taste of Vietnamese evolves with the growth of the country and their purchasing power. As the country is more open to the world, the consumption of its people also becomes more open.
What do we drink in Vietnam?
Axel: The main wines are red. Vietnamese wine consumption follows a trend that you had years before in other countries of South-East Asia such as Hong Kong.
First, it started with Bordeaux wines and today Chilean wines are doing well. Chilean wines are less taxed than others thanks to the Vietnam-Chile Free Trade Agreement. Australian and Italian wines are also starting to have more and more consumers.
We can also see a growth in the rosé consumption. A lot of women between 30 to 45 years old with higher purchasing power are drinking this sort of wine. Concerning sparkling wines, they are doing quite well here in Vietnam. But only big brands are represented here. Champagne is mainly sold in hotels such as the Hotel des Arts MGallery during Sunday brunch.
Mathilde: The Japanese community is also a strong wine consumer in Vietnam. That might come from the fact that they already are educated to wine consumption.
What about Vietnamese wine?
Axel: Vietnamese wine isn’t so developed. But you can find wine from Dalat. They do two harvests a year. But as they started a few years ago, I think that they still have to learn about managing grapes’ growth for instance. The quality is not there at the moment.
One more thing about this winery is that it’s a kind of government-run winery, so it was impossible for me to visit it. It’s not like in France where most of the winemakers will open their doors to people interested in the process.
One of the advantages of this wine is its price, given that it does not have import duties. Vietnamese mainly start drinking wine by trying Dalat wine with family for instance.
Who are the biggest players in the Vietnamese wine sector?
Axel: These are the five of the biggest importers. But you’ll find in Vietnam around 200 importers.
I also can give you 2 other actors who are a bit smaller but that I like. They differentiate themselves by having a more specific offer through smaller but quality brands:
What are some nice wine bars in Ho Chi Minh City?
Axel: If there is a bar that I would recommend, it would be the Cork&Bottle. It’s a wine bar owned by an importer. Then, prices are very interesting as well as the products selection.
Mathilde: La Cave is also a nice place to have a glass of wine. The place combines a bar, restaurant and a wine shop. here are some other places we like:
What is the concept of My Wine Box Vietnam?
Axel: The idea behind My Wine Box Vietnam is to discover wine through a box of 3 bottles. You can subscribe for only one month and go up to 12 months if you enjoy it. And every month you’ll have a new selection of wines. Generally, the box is made of two bottles of red wine and one bottle of white.
With each box, the client will have a booklet about the wines of the box. The goal is to make the customer aware of what he/she is drinking by giving, for instance, information concerning the production area of the wines. We want people to not only drink but learn about what they drink. Moreover, you’ll find recipes within the booklet in accordance with the wines. We give Western recipes but also Vietnamese ones.
Mathilde: We also deliver for free the box to the consumer within a day. And within each box, you’ll find some voucher and gifts from partners such as Sweets De Luxe.
When did you start this project?
Mathilde: We started two months ago and began selling the first boxes a month ago. We have done two events for the moment. A first one which was a tasting event two months ago and we’ve done the official launch two weeks ago.
Axel: But we got the idea a year ago, back in France. This concept of box is doing well in our country. For instance, Le Petit Ballon has an annual turnover of $60,000,000. As the business model is already validated in France (but also in Europe and even in the USA), we wanted to develop it in Vietnam to allow people to discover wine in an easier and more fun way.
How do you select the wine of your box?
Mathilde: We work with Vietnamese importers which have interesting wines on offer. We try to find smaller brands but which are interesting in terms of quality and taste for our customers and which are in our pricing range. For our first box, we worked with ATC Wine Merchants, vinifera and wine embassy..
Axel: More than the price/quality ratio, we are looking for brands that relate to values like authentic taste.
What about your pricing?
Axel: We try to offer the best quality with an acceptable price. We make sure that each box of three bottles sold is at the same price as would be the purchase at a wine merchant. Today we have 2 offers: the discovery edition at 1,600,000 VND and the premium edition at 4,500,000.
Mathilde: And we really want to be transparent concerning our pricing: at the end of the booklet you’ll find the name of the importers we worked with and you’ll have their selling price. So if a person likes a bottle in the box, he/she can find it again at those places with a 10% discount thanks to our partnership with them.
Concerning payment, the client will pay upon receipt of the product. It was important for us to do so knowing that 95% of Vietnamese delivery are done like that. And clients do not have to pay several months in advance.
Mathilde: More than selling boxes, we want to gather a community around wine. A sort of accessible wine club for wine amateurs and our clients. We would gather once or twice a month for tastings and diners to have a stronger relationship with our clientele. The aim is also to go deeper in the learning process about wine.
Axel: We also would like to develop our presence on social networks and create videos that explain and present wines of the box.
Do you have any tips on how to taste wine?
Axel: It’s always difficult to start trying wine. The taste might be surprising. But the more you try different wines, the more you’ll understand which wines you like and which you don’t. Then you can explore the ones you like. And something interesting about wine is that your taste will change. So, after some time, you’ll try new paths.
And more than the taste, try to understand the wine, where does it come from, how is it done, etc.
Do you have examples of Vietnamese food and wine associations?
Axel: The best to learn about these associations is to read the book of Alfredo De La Casa. It will give you tons of idea about wine associations. Notice that most of the time white wine is better for Vietnamese food as they eat a lot of sweet-salted cuisine.
Could you give us a typical French place to enjoy a good cheese with great wine ?
Mathilde: You can try Le Padam which is a very good wine and cheese bar. But you can easily do it by yourself by buying your own cheese and wine. And it will cost you less.
Who should we speak with next?
Mathilde: Roddy Battajon who launched a Rhum brand here in vietnam: Rhum Belami. Roddy is a French guy who distilled his Rhum in Vietnam. He also is mixologist. So, he knows a lot about what he does and his Rhums reflect that and are all great.
Axel: Alexandre Moreau from Dominique Saint Paul