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If dreams have a colour, the entrepreneurial vision of Crystal Chan (BBA 2010) must be the same shade as red wine. Crystal is a wine appreciation educator who put her entrepreneurial ambitions into action and opened a wine gallery, Pink Pink Wine, and set up wine tasting classes to share her passion with others. She also writes columns on wine and published a book, The Sommelier’s Kitchen, on wine and food pairing. Looking back, has her journey as a wine entrepreneur been sweet or sour?
During her student days, Crystal (front row, 1st from left) went on a scholarship-funded exchange program to the National University of Singapore and made new friends from many countries
Crystal matured during the years she spent studying and working, gaining knowledge and experience that would aid her as an entrepreneur. Speaking about her BBA courses, Crystal explained that the brand case studies were very practical. “Once, during a marketing course, we did a research project on a cosmetic brand with me as the team leader. The professor arranged for me to visit the corporation and sample the products. Then, I had to go back to my team and brainstorm a marketing plan. Even as university students yet to graduate, we were given an opportunity to gain actual experience — it was very exciting for all of us!”
Crystal (centre) worked for a multi-national corporation upon graduation and was responsible for the marketing of various brands
Upon graduation, Crystal was hired by a multi-national corporation and made responsible for the marketing of personal care and food products. Starting as an administrative intern, she was promoted to brand assistant manager, which required data analysis and precise calculation of marginal profits to effectively promote new products. She also planned advertising strategies and worked hard to get products featured on store shelves. After three busy years, she was determined to try something new and began finding her way through a challenging obstacle course to make her entrepreneurial dream come true.
When Hong Kong lifted its wine tax in 2008, red wine sales increased dramatically. Crystal feels good about the future of the business and treasures many aspects of red wine, which varies in taste according to its place of origin, grape variety, aging method and other crucial factors. She was inspired to enter the retail business with her partner, who is also her husband. Together, they opened Pink Pink Wine, a wine appreciation gallery in Central.
Crystal (2nd from right) travels to vineyards in France, discovering native wine culture with the help of local vintners
To succeed in a competitive market, Crystal went in a new direction, focusing on female customers who had previously been overlooked. She also conducted free wine tasting events, where she discovered her female clientele brought many gentlemen customers with them.
As a first-time entrepreneur, Crystal had no previous alcohol retail experience. She learned by trial and error, making a few mistakes along the way. “At first, I thought female clients would prefer sweet flavours, so I brought in one case of very sweet wine. Little did I know they only wanted something slightly sweet! As a result, that box of wine is gathering dust in the cellar.” Since then, Crystal has adjusted her buying strategies and makes purchases through various sources, including vineyards, agents, and auctions, making her business unique.
Crystal (standing) regularly arranges wine appreciation classes. She uses laymen’s terms to explain wine to her students
Faced with harsh competition and high rents, Crystal discovered making ends meet by relying on retail sales was not easy. She expanded her offerings by launching wine appreciation classes, made possible by her level-3 certificate from WSET, the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, where she excelled in the ‘theories’ and ‘wine tasting’ courses. She also visited vineyards in Bordeaux, France and experienced the wine-making process first-hand.
Most wine appreciation students work in banking and insurance, industries which often hold team-building activities for employees. During her courses, Crystal discusses wine varieties, production regions, industry lingo, the correct way to hold a wine glass and enjoying wine using the senses of taste and smell. She has also moved into wine and food pairing, matching wines with cheese and even Chinese cuisine, turning the art of wine appreciation into a way of life.
Crystal’s reputation quickly spread by word of mouth. Her classes continued expanding, attracting new people to her gallery and reducing the risks of running it; one pleased client even brought her to the attention of five new businesses.
Crystal shares her knowledge and inspiration for wine and food with readers at the book launch ceremony and wine appreciation party
Wine appreciation classes helped Crystal make a name for herself. Meanwhile, media and publishers noticed her knowledge of wine and food, as well as her willingness to share her talents, bringing her many new opportunities. Currently, Crystal writes columns for magazines and newspapers including Jiu Jik, Cru Magazine, and Sing Dao Daily. Last year, she published Hong Kong’s first and only book on wine and food pairing, The Sommelier’s Kitchen. Crystal experimented with cooking, discovering new wine pairings for different courses and receiving acclaim for suggesting the perfect wine with a traditional dish, rice with sun-dried meat in a clay pot. In so doing, she brought wine to people from all walks of life.
Crystal describes herself as like a horse determinedly racing towards its destination, doing whatever it takes to make it. For example, before publishing her book, she asked noted wine expert and Le Cordon Bleu graduate Wilson Kwok to write the foreword. Never expecting him to agree, she nearly burst into tears when he said yes. This daring attitude and intense energy have been crucial to her success and she believes setbacks make a person grow. Just like the bitter taste of red wine, challenges make a person age gracefully before turning into something even better.
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