Locally-brewed, inexpensive rice wine might be the tipple of choice for many in Cambodia but wine as the West knows it is has also started to make an impression. Cambodia’s first Italian-only wine shop, Gado Italy Wine Shop, opened in Phnom Penh less than a month ago. The man behind it is Jeffry Akudo, a 38-year old Italian who grew up on his father’s vineyard in Piedmont, one of the country’s most renowned wine regions, on a mission to impress the importance of fine wines. He gave Laura Walters the low-down on good grapes, Italian style and how to drink wine without the hangover.
Why did you decide to open a wine store in Cambodia?
When I decided to start investing, I was looking into different Asian markets, and I became interested in the history of Vietnam and Cambodia. During my exploration of the country I discovered Cambodian people drink wine, but they don’t know about wine. Many Cambodian people do not know what real wine is, or when to drink wine, or who should drink wine. I wanted to let them know about real Italian wine.
Why is Italian wine superior?
Italy is the “land of wine”. Italian people understand the craft of wine-making, and they have patience. To create a good wine you have to look into the future, and take the time to let the wine age. Sometimes this means you do not make money straight away, and it can be difficult. But Italians, especially in my region, have been in the business for a long time and they understand good wine takes time.
What are some of the challenges you have faced dealing with the wine industry in Cambodia?
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Things take time to gather momentum, but people are interested. They are coming in and tasting the wine, and we are selling a bit. But the wine industry in Cambodia is not controlled. Wine is coming in that shouldn’t be here. The government needs to take 100 per cent control of what is brought into the country, and what is sold here, so that people know what they are buying. Local people are not the problem, it is a customs matter. We bought wine in Cambodia, and took it home to test and it was filled with sugar and preservatives. It was not pure. I want the people to understand what real wine is. Often wine makers add sugar, or chemicals, as a cheap way to increase the alcohol content. This is what leaves people with a headache the next day. If someone bought my wine, drank it, and woke up with a headache, I would close my store.
What are some tips you could give to wine drinkers?
You have to follow the rules and regulations of wine. Different wines go with different foods, and they should be drunk at different times. All the labels on our wines suggest which foods they best accompany. For example Morellino di Scansano DOCG, a red wine, made in the Italian village of Scansano, is best with meat and pasta. Not every wine is for every person. It depends on what you like, and why you are drinking. It is best to come in and taste new wines and decide what is best for you.
What kind of a range do you sell?
All of our wine is 100 per cent pure. We have both red wine and white wine, and it is all imported from the regional co-operative factory in Italy where my father owns the vineyard. The cheapest bottle in the store is $7, and the most expensive bottle of wine is $2035.
Which are the finest wines you sell, in your opinion?
The Barbera and Nebbiolo are very good, but you can only judge a wine by the labour that has gone into it. The price you put on wine reflects the time, the labour, and the amount of people who worked to make the wine. So far, our customers are most interested in the Barbera and Nebbiolo wines.
What are your plans for the future?
We plan to open another store in Siem Reap, probably another in Phnom Penh, and maybe another one near a costal town. My wife, Linda, and I have come over to set up the business, but we will be going back to Italy soon. Our intention is to set up the business, and train local people to run the store and then visit in the future. This is the first Italian wine shop in Cambodia, and it is going to mean great things for Cambodian people.
You can find Gado Italy Wine shop at 110E Street 136, Phnom Penh.
To contact the reporter on this story: Laura Walters at [email protected]