Just before Pchum Ben, wine distribution company Celliers d’Asie held an event they called The Great Wine Experience, and a great experience it must surely have been for the 500 or so young hospitality professionals from the Cambodian trade who attended, as it could potentially be the largest wine event held in the Kingdom.
The Phnom Penh leg of the event was staged at the Town Hall building on Koh Pich and featured 26 wineries, all of whom presented numerous bottles of their wines for tastings. A total of 17 separate seminars were held along with a gala dinner complete with a laser light show and live music.
The seminars where all fully subscribed and there were more than 700 wines to taste during the day. The dinner was an extravagance featuring pairings of between six to eight different wines with each of the five courses.
The Dara Airport Hotel did a more than admiral job of getting 175 servings of food and 1,190 bottles of wine out onto the 35 tables of 10 during the night. The quality of the food was very good for such a challenging event and the quality of the wines extraordinarily generous given the sheer volume of bottles involved.
Some of the world’s great wineries were in attendance at the event, too many to name here. However, based on the wines tasted, some of the highlights were: Trimbach Riesling and Pinot Gris from Alsace, La Roche Chardonnay from Chablis, Chateau le Croix de Boyd Cantenac 2010 from Margaux and Whispering Angel Rose from Provence – all French wines as well as Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Riserva from Tuscany and Masi Brolo Campofiorin Rosso from Veneto, both from Italy, and the d’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz from McLaren Vale in South Australia.
Tony Devitt of Western Australian winery Ashbrook was the keynote speaker at the dinner and spoke well on the subject of how more focus needed to be given to Asia’s other markets and not just the all-consuming market of China, which draws so much of a winery’s marketing funds and human resources. The commitment by all the wineries involved with stock, time and the cost of coming over was duly noted.
Musical performances were staged by popular acts Nikki and Euan Gray along with a stunning troupe of contemporary Khmer dancers that were one of the highlights of the evening.
Eden Gnean, president of the Cambodian Sommeliers Association, said she really enjoyed the seminars: “They were very informative and I was impressed with the Cambodian interpreters from Celliers d’Asie, who were very helpful with the translation of technical wine terms.”
Gnean also noted that her colleagues really enjoyed the seminars and commented positively on the fact that speakers seemed to adjust their presentations to accommodate the general level of wine knowledge, (or lack thereof) in the room and communicated well.
“I think it was a fabulous event and very beneficial to hospitality professionals here who are interested in the wine segment,” she said. “It was also great exposure between the traders and buyers to be able to showcase their wineries and for us to meet the winemakers and taste their wines,” he said.
Ebby Reyhani, the sales and marketing director at Celliers d’Asie, said he was very pleased with the attendance and outcome of an event that was six months in the making, noting it was well attended in both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.
Reyhani was happy to report the feedback from his wineries was overwhelmingly positive, with many being pleased about the connection with the industry that such an event enables, whilst others were astounded at the level of attendance at the event.
Certainly, if wine is to become a more regular and preferred part of the dining experience in Cambodia then educating, training and supporting the young people in the industry and offering them genuine career paths is going to have to play a major role in its development.
Celliers d’Asie has now set the bar for the level of commitment possible – in an industry long fragmented and overdue of coming together to work as a cooperative body to improve wines’ broader appeal in the local beverage market.