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Uncorking local wine market

Hubert de Bouard at Raffles Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh. Eight generations of his family have made wine
Hubert de Bouard at Raffles Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh. Eight generations of his family have made wine. CHARlOTTE PERT

Uncorking local wine market

Hubert de Bouard family’s passion for wine stretches back centuries. Eight generations of the De Bouard family have made wine at Chateau Angelus in Bordeaux’s Saint-Emilion town since 1782. De Bouard’s daughter is set to take the helm when her father eventually retires. An accomplished winemaker, whose vineyard produces mostly Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes, De Bouard is also an aggressive salesman for his product in Asia’s rising economies.

The wine is ranked Premier Grand Cru Classe A, the highest level in the classification system for the town’s wines. Between business trips to Hong Kong and Jakarta, De Bouard made a one-night stopover in Phnom Penh on Wednesday to get a feel for the local market. He spoke to The Phnom Penh Post in his Raffles Hotel Le Royal suite about his vineyard, international expansion and why he reckons Cambodia is a promising place for winemakers looking to export.

What’s your interest here?
I met some [Cambodian] people who are interested in wine – especially the new generation. They want information about the wines, they know the brands and know the top classifications in Bordeaux. I think it’s a good moment.

Does Cambodia have what it takes to be a strong market?
I didn’t say it’s a great market. I just believe it starts to be a natural market at the beginning with just a few cases. A big part of my job is educating people. If you are the first to do that, the people will remember you always as the first to explain, to do training, to give information. I think it’s a good country, and this is the beginning of my story in [Cambodia]. It’s always the same thing for me when I start in a market, I start and I don’t stop. I never stop!

What is your biggest market?
Asia is about 55 per cent, US is 15 to 20 per cent and Europe is about 25 per cent. We have just a few cases for France. The big dragon is really mainland China. It’s very recent, because mainland China has increased a lot. If I just talk about 2005, which was just nine years ago, Asia was 15 per cent. But we are moving up everywhere – Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam. I don’t know exactly [what will happen] about Cambodia, but after my trip I hope it is the same case.

Is it normal for winemakers to run the marketing side of the vineyard?
When I took over from my father, he made wine but they never promoted the wine. They stayed at home. But now I believe that if you want to have a good brand, you must travel around to promote your wine everywhere. Before, in the old days when I took over, it was more in France, Belgium and Switzerland. And a few cases in the US. But the last 30 years, I’ve worked to increase [sales] and go everywhere in the world. It is a very successful story, because we are everywhere.

Despite not having any official presence here, it’s been reported that a few shops already stock your wine through informal channels. Is that a problem?
It’s the beginning of success! We have to control, but not to be a soldier with a gun. If a horse wants to drink, you cannot say no. People want to buy!

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