BY NATALIE WANG / VINO JOY NEWS
Jeannie Cho Lee MW
Wine critic, writer and educator / Founder of Asian Palate
Jeannie Cho Lee is a formidable force in Hong Kong’s tight-knit wine market and beyond. A wine critic, writer and educator, Lee firmly stamped her mark in the wine world when she became the first ethically Asian Master of Wine in 2008.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Lee came to Hong Kong in 1994 where she first started as a publisher for financial publications, but her affinity to wine started as early as 1992 when she was scribbling wine notes in her diaries.
An award-winning writer, her writings are seen in some of the most prestigious wine publications such as Decanter, Wine Spectator, The World of Fine Wine, Wine and Dine. She has also published three books on Asian food and wine pairing, and her favourite wines – Burgundy.
Aside from wine writing and review, Lee is also credited for her role in promoting wine education in Hong Kong and Asia. Having founded one of the earliest wine institutes in Hong Kong, the Fine Wine School, with British merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd, Lee now teaches at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s School of Hotel and Tourism Management.
Her influence in wine in Hong Kong and beyond has earned her the prestigious Knight in the National Order of the Legion of Honour in 2021, the highest French decoration established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 and given out by French presidents to eminent individuals.
The honor rightfully extols her “exceptional merits and her remarkable contribution to the promotion of French wines across the world,” according to the French government. The only other wine writer and critic who has ever received the medal is Robert Parker in 1999.
Lee also sits on the wine selection panel for Singapore Airlines along with Michael Hill Smith MW and British wine writer Oz Clarke.
Scroll through the pages below to read them all. Ranking is in no particular order.
Co-founder of Ginsberg + Chan
Half of the powerful duo in Hong Kong’s fine wine industry, Mandy Chan together with her husband Jason Ginsberg has built a well-respected and internationally awarded fine wine merchant in the Asian wine hub.
Born and raised in Canada, Chan in 2010 left her career as a software developer to come to Hong Kong, which had just eliminated taxes on wine two years ago, ushering in a golden age of wine boom.
Her natural business instincts learned from her entrepreneurial father had proved to be indispensable in setting up her business in the city. Having worked for large and small companies in retail, finance, software, property, and wine, Chan quickly put her experiences to use and set up the company with her husband within the same year.
Today, Ginsberg + Chan boasts some of the most enviable wine names and collections in the region.
Naming the business after themselves, the duo set out to create a wine business that reflected how they would want to shop for wines. A place where wine lovers can buy from a broad wine list that carries benchmark wines, a place to find vintages to reference time & time again, as well as a place where shoppers will find fresh new discoveries waiting to surprise.
Chan is also an experienced wine judge and an educated wine authenticator. Her knowledge of fine wine is particularly focussed in Burgundy where her and her husband have a home. She is the mother of two and is passionate about women’s issues, mental health and creating a family business that does her family proud.
Jennifer Docherty MW
Head of Buying and Education at Summergate Fine Wines & Spirits
Jennifer Docherty became the first ethnically Chinese and Mandarin-speaking individual to achieve the prestigious Master of Wine title in 2015, and is currently Head of Buying and Education at Greater China’s leading wine company, Summergate Fine Wines and Spirits, influencing tens of thousands consumers’ buying choices.
Born and raised in Vancouver, Canada, she left at 18 to study fashion design in New York, and worked for years in London before calling Hong Kong home.
Docherty has been working in the wine business for more than 14 years with roles in sales, fine wine trading and buying. Before moving to Hong Kong, she worked in the wine business in the UK for over 12 years and selected wines and sake for the renowned UK and Irish importer Liberty Wines as their buyer.
In 2018, she moved to the Asian wine hub to explore the Asian drinks market, and was appointed Head of Buying and Education for Summergate Fine Wines and Spirits, a major importer of China exclusively representing about 70 brands across its 10 offices in Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China. Her team also provides training to staff and customers.
Alongside wine business, Docherty judges for numerous international competitions including the IWC Sake Competition and Decanter World Wine Awards; assists in MW education programmes and writes about wine for DecanterChina.com.
Apart from wine, she also holds the SSI Master of Sake and WSET Level 3 Award in sake.
Sarah Heller MW
Wine educator, Writer and visual artist
At age 33, Sarah Heller is Asia’s youngest Master of Wine. A wine educator, writer and visual artist, Heller is recognised as one of the most dynamic figures in Hong Kong’s wine scene.
Having graduated from Yale University with a fine art degree, Heller cut her teeth in the wine world by working in wine trade in New York and Hong Kong, and wineries in France and Italy.
She worked as the Executive Director of Meiburg Wine Media in Hong Kong from 2011 to 2014. During this experience, she worked with Debra Meiburg, one of the first MWs in Asia, on education, market research and wine events before she received the title herself in 2017.
The young talent is also an acclaimed wine writer and visual artist. She was named wine editor for Tatler Hong Kong in 2019, taking over from American wine critic James Suckling.
Aiming to target a new generation of wine lovers in a more innovative way, she incorporated her interest in art to create a Visual Tasting Note project which has been exhibited across Asia, North America and Europe.
With her extensive knowledge on wine, particularly on Italian wines, Heller is appointed a member of the Vinitaly International Academy (VIA) Faculty and has taught the revised VIA Italian Wine Ambassador certification course in Hong Kong starting from 2018.
She has also been the judge for the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine & Spirit Competition, chairman of WINE100 competition in China, and the judging committee of the International wine and spirit competitions (IWSC).
Recently, she was announced as IWSC’s Wine Communicator of the Year for 2022 for her international reach and her ability to bridge the gap between the Asian and Western market.
Actress, Winemaker and Social media influencer
Bernice Liu is no stranger to Hongkongers. A famous TV actress, model and presenter, spanning an illustrious entertainment career of 20 years, Liu’s tendrils of influence now reaches far beyond the screen to the world of wine.
Her early wine-soaked trips to Napa Valley and France’s famous wine region Bordeaux inspired her to create her own wine brand – Bellavizio, meaning “beautiful mistake” in Italian in 2008. First launched with just a Napa Chardonnay and a Merlot, the brand has since grown to include Bordeaux wines and bagged a few international accolades including Decanter World Wine Awards and the Grand Harvest Awards.
Liu herself has also evolved from a wine noive to become a serious winemaker, a certified sommelier and is currently pursuing wine studies with WSET’s diploma courses. Her winemaking chops were also nodded in 2019 when she was chosen as one of the top 10 best women winemakers in Japan’s Sakura Japan Women’s Wine Award.
Aside from her own brand, she also launched an online wine shopping platform called Wine Marven for Hong Kong’s vast wine lovers. Her reach in wine is also broadened with her enviable social media clout. The actress-turned-winemaker has over 125,000 followers on Instagram and 81,000 on Facebook.
She was inducted to Commanderie du Bontemps, Commanderie de Champagne, Knights of Alba society of Italy, and most recently Commanderie de Bordeaux.
Liu is also noted for philanthropist work. She was recognized for positively promoting internationalism through her charity work between Canada, China, and France, receiving the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal of Honour in 2013. The same year, a single bottle of her wine was auctioned off for RMB 250,000 (US$39,600), and all proceeds were donated to the BOSS Charity Event, helping children with disabilities and in need of aid.
The following year, another bottle of her Bellavizio smashed the previous record for RMB 300,000 (US$47,500).
Debra Meiburg MW
Wine writer, educator, judge and TV personality
Founder of Meiburg Wine Media
A Hong Kong resident of more than 30 years, Debra Meiburg became the first Asia-based Master of Wine in 2008 and is a fervent advocate of Hong Kong wine trade and education through her own media platform and wine school.
In 2012, she was named as the 7th Most Powerful Woman in Wine by The Drinks Business. In 2013, she was awarded Entrepreneur of the Year (Women of Influence) by Hong Kong media, South China Morning Post.
Although hailing from a grape-growing family in Sonoma, she devoted herself to the wine industry only after moving to Hong Kong, where she founded the Meiburg Wine Media (MWM), one of the leading wine marketing agencies in Asia.
Aiming to enhance Hong Kong’s wine trade development, MWN established the Wine SPIT association with leading wine companies in Hong Kong including Altaya Wines, ASC Fine Wines, Links Concepts, Watson’s Wine and more.
She has also keenly shared her knowledge on Hong Kong and Asia wine trade through her award-winning wine educational book series “Debra Meiburg’s Guide to the Asian Wine Trade”, and a monthly column for the South China Morning Post and Tatler.
As a female entrepreneur, Meiburg is also committed to lifting up fellow women. She serves as a board member of The Women’s Entrepreneur’s Network, a non-profit platform empowering women entrepreneurs in Hong Kong via training and networking.
Outside of the trade world, Meiburg has also demonstrated her passion for wine education by establishing the MWM Wine School in Hong Kong in 2017, offering WSET courses, educational wine courses and workshops. She is a Certified Wine Educator of the Society of Wine Educators, and Chair of the Education Committee for the Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW).
A seasoned wine judge, Meiburg co-founded Hong Kong’s flagship wine competition, the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Wine and Spirit Competition with the Hong Kong Trade Development Council.
She is also wine consultant for Hong Kong’s home carrier Cathay Pacific Airways, which serves 1.8 million bottles of wine annually.
Director of Procurement at Kerry Wines
Candice Chan’s post as Director of Procurement at influential wine company Kerry Wines directly decides what wines will be served at some of the most swanky hotels and restaurants in Hong Kong and mainland China, influencing hundreds and thousands of consumer palates.
Established in 2010, Kerry Wines is a major fine wine importer and distributor operating in Greater China including Hong Kong and Shanghai. Owned by The Kuok Group, owner of Shangri-la Hotels, it is a leader in properties, logistics, hospitality, and food across Asia.
Chan has over three decades of experience working in some of the city’s biggest and most iconic wine companies.
She got her start in wine working for one of the pioneering wine companies, Topsy Trading, in 1989 after graduation. The company was credited as being the first company to import fine Bordeaux wines to China and for 10 years, Chan learned the ropes from the best, helping the company build its Bordeaux portfolio.
From there, Chan moved to Jardine Caldbeck Hong Kong and in 2003 landed in Watson’s Wine, the city’s biggest wine retailer owned by billionaire Li Ka-shing. Serving as Senior Buying Manager at Watson’s Wine, Chan worked at the company for eight years, trotting the globe to scout wines to fill Watson’s wine shelves.
Eventually in 2012, Chan joined Kerry Wines. As Fine Wine Procurement Director of Kerry, Chan is responsible for the company’s global fine wine sourcing to build up brand portfolio for both Hong Kong and China.
Managing Director for WSET Asia Pacific
Jude Mullins is Managing Director for WSET Asia Pacific Limited, a subsidiary of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), the largest global provider of qualifications in wine, spirits and sake.
Mullins is instrumental in growing WSET’s influence and expansion in Asia including its key markets of mainland China and Hong Kong after being appointed Director for Asia Pacific in 2012, and International Development Director in 2013.
Under her leadership, WSET set up its first international office in Hong Kong in 2016, in response to high demand for wine and spirit education across Greater China. The same year, China has overtaken the US to become the second biggest market for WSET behind just UK, and the largest growth market.
Two years later, Jude moved from London to Hong Kong where she now calls home. She was appointed Managing Director for WSET’s subsidiary company, WSET Asia Pacific Limited, in 2019 and is responsible for the development of WSET qualifications across the Asia Pacific region.
Jude passed the WSET Level 4 Diploma in Wines and Spirits with Honours in 2001, winning the prestigious Carlo Pellegrino Award for academic achievement. The next year, she joined WSET, after a career working in hospitality, retail, direct sales and for the International Wine Challenge.
She is a WSET Certified Educator and believes that one of the greatest things we can do as drinks industry professionals is to share our knowledge and experience with those who are following in our footsteps to empower them in their future career development.
Managing Director of Northeast Wines & Spirits
Betsy Haynes heads Northeast Wines & Spirits, one of the very first New World wine importers in Hong Kong established almost three decades ago. The company was credited for introducing some of the biggest wine names in the US, Australia, and New Zealand outside of France to the city in early 1990s.
Started as a fresh graduate at The Marriott Group in London, Haynes has dedicated her career in the hospitality industry between Hong Kong and England, but since 2009 she has permanently relocated to Hong Kong to grow her family business.
Built on the success from her mentor and boss (also Mother) – Lillian Haynes; she quickly picks up the vision and core values at Northeast and has been taking a leading role within a few years.
She is also key to build a like-minded team that will not only uphold the reputation of this family business; but to lead and grow into a company that understands and anticipates the needs of the industry; as well as providing a safe workplace that encourages creativity and inclusion.
In 2021, despite the pandemic, Northeast expanded its portfolio and merged with one of the artisan spirits pioneers in the city – High Spirits, which takes the company to a new level with the premium offering of the new company being much more complete. Brand leaders such as Piper-Heidsieck, Michter’s and more are now under one umbrella.
The company also runs a retail platform wine’n’things for the city’s wine and spirits drinkers.
Head of Wine, Christie’s Asia Pacific
Michelle Chan is the Head of Wine at auction house Christie’s Asia Pacific department, and plays an important role in securing consignments, driving sales, uplifting client acquisition and engagement for live and online auctions in a market steeped with competitions.
Originally from Hong Kong, Chan worked for about 10 years at Sotheby’s as senior wine specialist and head of sales. She was part of a strong wine team in Asia led by Adam Bilbey (who now has also left Sotheby’s to head Christie’s wine and spirits department) that saw some blockbuster and record-breaking wine sales and reinforced Sotheby’s lead in fine wine sales.
Prior to joining Sotheby’s, she worked at Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Bank for 10 years, specialising in media and investor relations.
Chan joined Christie’s in December 2019, and leads a team of specialists seeking to expand its client base in China, Hong Kong and rest of Asia, and promote cross-category buying in other departments within art and luxury.
Under her leadership, she orchestrated the auction debut sale of Japan’s ultra premium sake Juyondai, achieving white glove sale result of 100% sell rate.