Words by Lim Hwee Peng
Is the wine profession in Singapore sustainable given its small market size? Lim Hwee Peng CWE, FWS, a true blue Singaporean and an internationally established wine specialist weighs in.
If you are a professional in an F&B; Hotel; Culinary; Hospitality establishment, you would have come across a scenario when you were put on the spot to answer a question on wine. That situation can be scary, embarrassing, and even nightmarish, because you were unable to respond confidently, because…well, you were simply unsure.
Let’s face it, wine can be a complex and confusing subject matter; in addition, there are loads of technical jargons that could even confound many trade professionals. Is there an efficient and structured way to overcome such insecurity and fear?
I have been in the wine industry since early 1990s, which means I have been learning about wine during pre-Google/search engines/Facebook/social media days. ‘Convenience’ and ‘free flow of information’ were not the operative terms during said medieval information age. And although I have been put through a difficult and barren period for wine learning, I have managed to survive, and thankfully, become relatively skilled in the profession. I have often been asked, ‘what were the ‘Kung Fu’ required to enjoy reasonable success in the wine trade?’
I will be sharing on some of my observations and lessons learned on my wine journey; a path that I have walked, stumbled, persevered and succeeded in managing that burden. However, I would like to paint you the macro view, before laying out more of the ‘ingredients’ to rein in your unfounded fear in handling wines. And it is ‘unfounded’ because often, it is how you were introduced to ‘wine’ in your initial introduction to vino.
When you were F&B/hospitality undergrads, were you expected to learn everything about wine, including wine regions; foreign languages; wine laws, as well as technical aspects of all things related to wines? And in your early days in the trade, did you pick up wine expertise from on the job training (OJT); shadowing your senior, who may or may not be familiar with the topic?
We cannot turn back the clock, but we can explore ways to unlearn and relearn accurately. But let’s not let the cat out of the bag prematurely. We will reveal more in subsequent issues.
In the meantime, it is of paramount importance to grasp the macro aspects of the wine trade, so that you are able to strategise your way, well, at least, adjust your mindset in getting acquainted with the “Why do I need to conquer the hurdles in getting conversant with wine”.
Let us start by looking at how serious is the wine business in Singapore?
According to Global Data, the value of the Singapore wine industry is estimated to potentially worth USD$1.4 billion (source: https://www.globaldata.com/premiumization-opportunities-abound-singapore-wine-market-says-globaldata/)
Hence, we can now appropriately value the importance of wine trade despite Singapore’s market size; and with such worth, we can confidently acknowledge that the trade is an asset worthy of developing.
By proxy, the various vocations working in the wine industry, e.g. wine retail; wine sales; wine marketing; logistics; wine journalists; wine program instructors; wine consultants and sommeliers, are crucial to the profession and must also be viewed as part of that asset.
However, are those assets being appropriately developed to uphold the value of the industry? As one of the pioneers in spearheading the development of knowledge and skills for wine profession since 2005, I can assuredly state that this is still an on-going process.
Nevertheless, with 15 years of efforts to convince individuals and employers of the importance in wine professionalism, we have managed to make some headways forward. But, in the same breath, I must also mention that we are still chasing behind the curve.
Part of the hurdles were the continued doubts by employers and employees.
Employer: What if I level up my employees’ knowledge and he/she leaves me for another company?
But how to compete in a competitive market if your employees do not increase their professionalism, leading to one’s business lagging behind others, who have adopted a learning mindset and have more productive employees?
Employee: Why invest my time and resources to learn about wine, when I am already achieving good sales figures? Besides, I don’t have time to attend courses.
The wine industry is dynamic, with changes emerging fast and furious. Without bridging the gaps and updating one’s knowledge, one can unintentionally loses its edge to fellow peers, who were willing to invest to be ahead of competition. And as for schooling oneself in the intricacies of his/her profession, it is a worthy investment in one’s career.
Choosing the route to be comfortable in your present state can be shortsighted, especially your opt-out decision made it plain for competitors, as well as employers to see how little regard you have for your profession.
And during the next sharing, I will be highlighting two other reservations that I have observed from the enrolment exercises we conducted for our wine programs. Until then, be confident that you are in a valuable vocation, and an industry that is worth investing in your professionalism.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Lim Hwee Peng CWE, FWS is a professional wine service provider and wine mentor, who coaches and certifies hundreds of professionals in Singapore and South East Asia through internationally-certified wine programs under his care, such as the French Wine Scholarship program. Despite his multiple exposures in the wine trade since 1990s, Lim remains a committed student of wine and acquires further knowledge through international certification programs. Lim also honed his tasting skills through wine judging opportunities in South Africa, South America, Italy, and Australia. Among his professional qualifications, Lim is a French Wine Scholar (FWS) and Certified Wine Educator (CWE). Lim was also a DUX of the Advanced Wine Assessment Course (AWAC) by AWRI. In 2017, he was recognised by the Singapore Wine and F&B industries as a ‘Sommelier Mentor of the Year 2017’; he was also awarded the ‘Working Peoples’ Advocate 2017’ by the Singapore’s National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) for his efforts to increase professionalism among his peers. In January 2018, the Wine Scholar Guild garnered him as ‘Best Instructor – French Wine Scholar Program 2017’.