What are you doing here in Chile?
I am visiting wineries to get a better idea about what people are doing here, what they are eating here and the whole culture.
This is your second time visiting Chile, how are you enjoying visiting vineyards?
This trip I have more time and working with Patricio Tapia has been a very good experience – he has given me a better understanding of the wines.
You’ve been through coastal regions like Casablanca, southern regions like Maule and more Andean regions like Maipo, what wines or regions have you most enjoyed tasting from?
It is hard to say! Every wine is different and from a professional teaching point of view I have to be objective. I enjoyed all the wines but my favourite are the very heavy, big and strong wines with lots of structure, that’s my personal taste. But when I am tasting I avoid my personal habits… Everyone has a different wine personality.
Something that has really impressed me is the Carignan. It’s not a new variety but in the future it could be the new flagship for Chile maybe.
What do you think is interesting for Asian consumers about Chilean wines?
Chilean wine has a very good reputation in China. It is the best value, and in the future Chilean wine has a very good market in Asia. If just one percent of the Chinese population drink wine every week, the whole of Chile would have to plant wine everywhere – on the rooftops even!
But Chile faces a problem with the Asian market because it is so far away, it takes 35 hours to get here. I want to let them see what I am seeing and share with them the experience. I hope I can bring more people to Chile to share the experience too.
How is the wine culture in China changing?
Before people went for the most expensive wine or something very cheap and now people are getting more interested with different wine, it is a very good direction that I see. I also see more and more people coming to study, it’s very interesting. People come from all the different industries, the oldest pupils I have are 70 years old and the youngest is 15 years old. Her mum sends her to the class because it is really good for health!
How was your own journey into wine? Did your parents introduce you to wine too?
My parents didn’t know wine, they have no idea about wine! I was a bar tender for a long time, and I was in the beverage industry. When I was working in a hotel my food and beverage director said he was going to offer me an exciting job – as wine steward in 2004. I had no idea what a sommelier was!
He said we are going to open a new trendy restaurant and so I bought every single bottle of wine in the cellar. It was a really nice experience. I was drinking wine but I knew nothing… At the beginning I loved to listen to the sound of a cork popping from the bottle, but then when I studied to be a sommelier I learned that it was very wrong: it has to be opened silently, or like a tender kiss.
It was very tough. The head judge is the Best Sommelier of the World in 1995 and he is now president of ASI. After winning the competition I went to the Best Sommelier of Asia competition. I didn’t win but I was in the final and I had a good experience with all the people. I will dedicate my life to this career.
What do your parents think of your success?
My parents are really happy but they don’t understand what a sommelier is. I told my teacher about what I am doing and he searched my name on the Internet and got lots of results and called the local newspapers, then they all printed it in the local newspaper. My mum called me to say I was in the newspaper, a colleague brought it to work, and my classmates started calling me to say I am famous.
But I am just doing what I love to do. I don’t want to be famous I want more people to enjoy wines and enjoy their life, with wine as part of it. After my father saw me in the newspaper he started to tell him friends to search my name online, I told him to play it down… But I am happy they are happy.
What has your experience of Chilean culture been?
People are very friendly with me. I like the food, the weather and I like to see the really old cars and I love the countryside.
Do you have any advice or hopes for the Chilean wine industry?
I hope people focus more on the quality and hold their direction. There are many attractive offers, like Chinese companies might ask for label exclusively. I understand some have to financially but if you want to have a long-term business you need to build your vision. When they sell your exclusive label it is not sustainable. Be focused on your reputation and quality.
Photos (provided by Hans Qu): Hans visiting Chilean wineries and trying his hand at production; Hans with journalist Amanda Barnes at the 2013 Descorchados awards event in Santiago; Hans having a go at vineyard care during one of his visits.