He’s the guest of honour this evening at a tasting of his wines organised by local alcohol distributor, Brand Connect, in the lead up to this year’s New Zealand Wine & Food Festival on March 16th in Ho Chi Minh City.
Jason’s brands Two Rivers and Black Cottage Wineswill be available for punters to try at the upcoming festival, which will feature over 30 wines and tasty produce from New Zealand cooked up by some of the city’s finest chefs. Tonight, I’m looking forward to trying the wines with Jason before they make their public debut.
It doesn’t take me long to find him among the small crowd of restaurateurs, bar owners and wine connoisseurs in attendance and who are already well-underway with their tastings, because aside from me, he’s the only one wearing shorts. It’s the perfect ice-breaker.
“It’s important for people to understand the brand, the authenticity of the people involved and the story behind it”Jason Yank – Two Rivers & Black Cottage Wines
“I asked Jim (owner of Lu Bu) what the dress code was for tonight, because I wanted to wear jandals,” a smiling Jason begins, “then I thought I’d better at least wear runners.”
Of course, the ‘jandals’ he’s referring to are those colourful, rubbery beach footwear things Kiwi’s wear to barbecues and just about every other event when they’re not wearing stockman’s boots, and are otherwise known to you and me as flip-flops, or thongs or double-pluggers if you’re an Aussie.
Either way, they’re casual pieces of work, just like Jason. Any more relaxed and he’d fall over. “I love being back,” he says, swirling a glass of some of that light pink product of his I can’t wait to try. Before long, to my glee, he slips a glass of it into my hand.
It’s the third time the 44-year-old Brit, who now calls New Zealand home, has visited Vietnam. Back in 2015 on his first visit he was struck by how much red wine there was on lists and in wine stores, especially given that the flavours of Vietnamese food lend themselves to New World aromatic wines, like sauvignon blanc, rose and pinot gris varieties. A perfect match, as it turns out, for Marlborough country drops.
“That was four years ago,” he says, “but now, I certainly see a swing to more white and aromatic wines. The other thing I’ve also noticed since last time is the ever-growing number of great wines, great coffee and awesome dining experiences.”
Indeed, wine sales are enjoying steady growth year-on-year in Vietnam at the moment, at around 4.6%, with forecasts by Euromonitor International projecting total volume sales of wine by 2022 in Vietnam at a healthy 54.7 million litres. When Jason first visited Vietnam in 2015, 37.2 million litres of wine had been sold in the previous year, so the signs are encouraging for investors in wine here.
But to get an idea of where wine fits in the pecking order of alcohol consumption in Vietnam, it might be best to compare it with beer. What it reveals is that there’s quite a way to go before the big beer brewers in Vietnam like Sabeco start trembling in their gumboots at any sort of competition.
In 2017, 3.9 billion litres of beer was sold here, with forecasters predicting it will rise to a massive 5.1 billion litres in 2022. If my maths is correct, that’s the equivalent quantity of 2,040 Olympic-size swimming pools of beer drunk in Vietnam each year. Beer is boss in this country.
Nevertheless, with the prospect of increased wine sales looking good in Vietnam thanks to a growing number of Western tourists and expatriate workers bringing demand with them for quality wines, including an uptake in the number of local consumers becoming more open to drinking wine for reasons connected to health and a perceived elevated social status, it still makes good sense that brands like Two Rivers and Black Cottage Wines have reached out to new markets like Vietnam.
“The wider region of Asia is of interest to us,” explains Jason. “We’ve been in the Hong Kong and Singapore markets for a number of years now and our distribution partner has a fantastic Pan-Asia strategy that I believe in, because it’s turned markets that might not have been possibilities in the past, into sudden distinct possibilities.”
While retail sales of wine in Vietnam pail in comparison to much of the wine-drinking world, Asia-Pacific wine sales in 2017 were second globally behind Western Europe, reports Euromonitor International.
And with Australasia, home to some of the best wines in the world, selling the least, it’s a no-brainer for two relatively young and small brands like Two Rivers and Black Cottage Wines to cast their eyes north and give it a go, as they have already successfully done in Indonesia.
Originally with a marketing, communications and human resources background in his previous life outside of the wine industry, Jason’s a strong believer in people and communication, particularly as it relates to the narrative surrounding wine in general and, perhaps more importantly, the building of brands.
“It’s important for people to understand the brand, the authenticity of the people involved and the story behind it,” he explains, over another frosty glass of wine, this time his Two Rivers sauvignon blanc. “You need to be there, because people buy wine from people.”
It’s this philosophy that Jason has stood by since the first time he went to live in New Zealand and was flying with that country’s national carrier to get there.
“Their tagline was ‘Being there is everything’,” he says of Air New Zealand’s campaign tagline of the time, “and it’s remained with me since then. It’s always encouraged me to ‘be there’ so to speak. It’s a must in my line of business. You can read all you like on the internet about a market, a city, the people, the cuisine, but there’s no substitute for being there tasting, smelling and experiencing things for yourself.”
By now, we’ve polished off a number of glasses of both brands being showcased tonight, and this well-to-do wine tasting and networking event is threatening to evolve into something more than just a tipple. It’s time to bid farewell.
To steal from Jason’s philosophy of ‘being there’, tonight’s tasting is the closest I’ll get to ‘being there’ in New Zealand for a while, but it doesn’t matter because Two Rivers and Black Cottage Wines encapsulate what’s great about Marlborough region wines – fruitiness, punchiness and crispiness – all in a single glass ‘right here’ in Vietnam. — Matthew Cowan
We asked Jason to pair his wines with some common Vietnamese dishes:
- Goi Cuon – “Two Rivers Rosé would be my first choice. Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay depending on the heat within the roll”
- Bun Cha – “Rosé or Chardonnay”
- Bo Luc Lac – “Pinot Noir, slightly chilled”
- Banh Xeo – “Rosé, Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc”
- Pho Bo – “Rosé or chilled Pinot Noir”
- Goi Ngo Sen Tom Thit – “Rosé or Pinot Gris”
There are still some tickets left for the New Zealand Wine & Food Festival in Ho Chi Minh City on March 16th, 2019. For more info, click HERE