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Uncorking a vintage career in selling fine wines

Since the government abolished taxes on wine in 2008, new life has flowed into the industry, turning Hong Kong into a global wine hub. Needless to say, when buying a product as sophisticated as wine, it never hurts to ask a professional. 

Jack Wan Pak-ling, assistant supervisor at city’super Times Square wine department, spends his day advising customers how to mix and match wine with food, and helping them shop for wines they like. 

“I am working in a field that I am really interested in. It is undoubtedly helpful to my career,” he says. “What I enjoy most about my job is that I have the chance to mingle with people with different personalities and from different backgrounds. Through the interaction with customers, I can really learn a lot, as they might have some experiences that you might never otherwise encounter.”

There are no specific academic qualifications for being a wine salesman, but in addition to on-the-job experience, Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) training is preferable. Being able to speak Putonghua and English is also an advantage. “It is thought now that  20 to 30 per cent of customers are mainlanders.

“They usually look for wines from the famous chateaux, and those of high quality,” says Wan. “Laffite is, without doubt, one of their favourites.”

As the mainlander market share is still growing, proficiency in Putonghua will be a must in future, Wan adds. 

He thinks that wine sales staff must be passionate, active and service-minded. “They need to be devoted to serving, and continuously building up their wine knowledge.”

One of the challenges of the job is how to deal with demanding customers, says Wan. “They expect you to remember all the things about every single wine. This is where internal training by the company comes into use. Sometimes, customers might get drunk during wine-tasting events and sales have to be smart enough to handle such a situation.”

Wan’s duties include placing orders through – and supervising – the buying team. “When I  joined as a wine assistant, I did mostly frontline sales. I was promoted to senior sales and then assistant supervisor. My long-term aim is to be a supervisor in three years, and have a chance to do business trips to wine chateaux to widen my horizons,” he says.