Su-Lin Ong is an independent wines and spirits consultant specialising in research and development, marketing and PR. For over 25 years she has worked with both long-established brands and helped launch new entrepreneurial brands, working also on cocktails, beers and tea infusions! Amanda Barnes interviews her about her parents’ cocktail trolley, fast cars and slow wine, and why she’ll be looking to toast at the tennis club when this second UK lockdown is over.
What is your earliest memory in wine?
I recall jolly evenings hosted by my parents for their friends. They poured sherry from decanters into slow-to-sip-from sherry schooners, and Mateus Rosé and Martini Rosso from a modish French-polished ’60s cocktail trolley. But I don’t recall any ice being used! Today, I would want to recreate such a retro offering on a loungy Sunday evening – but with chilled glasses, ice and garnishes.
Do you have any wine regions that are particularly close to your heart, and why?
I was captivated by an early trip some 25 years ago to Cape Town, enjoying ocean views, then winding through vineyards in Franschhoek, Paarl and Stellenbosch. The Cape Dutch winery architecture created a serene welcome on a human scale. Since then, wine-seeking adventures have been a pleasure and privilege of my leisure time and my work around the world. I am forever curious about the stories behind the wines, the estates, agricultural achievements and the winemakers – even more so than how the wines taste and food matching.
On top of your drinks marketing & development business, you are also a lifestyle writer and consultant. How do you think the luxury wine and lifestyle business might change in response to the pandemic?
I also write about classic cars and heritage motoring, mainly so that I can get to drive some pretty amazing retro wheels – but not on the same days as my wines and spirits work!
And I’ve written a number of London arts and culture features for Hong Kong Tatler and group magazines. I didn’t write about wines back then, as they were considered of specialist interest and given less space in magazines. But today it’s great to see how wine has a primary lifestyle appeal. So many features now bring alive the whole mood of the wines to a wider range of readers, especially as wine tourism has flourished.
As for the pandemic and our current climate, I have seen a slowdown in people’s behaviour and a greater curiosity for discovering different wines. People have re-set their approach to purchasing. They seem to have more time and enjoy learning more. They aren’t so rushed to simply buy on price, short-term offers and fashion. They make their choices based on what they have learned and are comfortable to identify with.
And back to 2020 and coming up to 2021, what have you got coming up over the next few months? Are there any exciting events or launches to share with members?
Amongst my projects, these three are brightening up the season ahead. Agora is a new British vermouth which bravely launched in Summer 2020 to the trade and is about to enter the exciting selling phase to consumers.
For Sud de France – all the wines from Occitanie – the initiative is to continue supporting buyers, restaurant and retail staff, and also convey their appeal to consumers.
Looking ahead to 2021, Luxardo, Italy’s oldest independent family-owned liqueurs company which also produces some wines, will celebrate 200 years. It starts right now with a rally call to the trade and influencers. So look out for the #200MaraschinoCherries campaign for its signature cherries and maraschino liqueur. The big challenge is how to bring these messages to life when social gatherings on a mass scale aren’t possible.
And finally, how do you plan to get through Lockdown 2.0? Do you have any top tips for enjoying wine at home?
We’ll get there. Wine tastings via Zoom for trade and friends were an effective novelty, but expensive, and there’s likely something left in the bottles hanging around for days. It’s quite different from real life, when you drain the last drop from the bottle after sharing it with others at the table. That’s what spurs you on to open another bottle, doesn’t it? And not waste a drop.
For off-duty fun – I and other members of my tennis club at Holland Park will take a fresh look at wines and spirits for the new clubhouse menu when it re-opens after a major refurb. We’re lucky to have hands-on wine experts, a top writer and a luxury specialist to help create an impactful new offering. It has to inspire and satisfy thirsty members and gourmets from morning ’til long after the court lights turn off at night.
Members can reach out to Su-Lin at [email protected]