Monday, September 17, 2007

Wine comes to heartland

16 Sep 2007, ST

You know Singapore's wine culture is maturing when you can pick up a bottle of red on the way to the hawker centre or the mini-mart

By Huang Lijie

WINE shop co-owner Ronald Foo, who runs Wine Fella in Toa Payoh with his father Peter, was pleasantly surprised when five people attending a recent seventh-month dinner auction held near his shop popped by and bought wines to go with their meal.

'They were not your stereotypical yuppie wine drinkers, but meeting the needs of a growing wine culture in the heartland is why we chose to set up shop here,' says Mr Ronald Foo, 43, whose nine-month-old store is located below a block of HDB flats in Lorong 4.

At least four new wine shops have opened up in HDB estates in the last year to capitalise on the burgeoning interest in wine drinking in the heartland.

Like coffee shops that sell beer, these wine stores need to apply for liquor licences from the Liquors Licensing Board through the police, to sell wines for consumption either on or off the store's premises.

According to HDB wine retailers, the increasing availability of wines in supermarkets and neighbourhood eateries has fueled this interest but they say the heartland market remains to be fully tapped.

Seizing the opportunity, established wine retailers with shops in more upmarket areas have also branched into public housing estates.

Wine Wise, which has a three-year-old store at the Rail Mall in Upper Bukit Timah, opened another outlet near Tiong Bahru wet market earlier this year.

Denise The Wine Shop, which has 14 outlets located in various private residential areas and shopping malls, opened its 15th store in Woodlands last week.

Mr Eric Chew, 50, owner of seven-year-old Euro Link Wines and Spirits in Toa Payoh, which opened a branch in Whampoa West last year, says: 'By moving into the residential blocks, we make it even more convenient for customers to buy their wine and enjoy it in the comfort of their homes.'

These heartland wine shops have also grown the number of wine lovers in the suburbs.

Mr Danny Tan, 44, a manager in a golf course, only started appreciating and buying wine after Wine Fella opened in the HDB block adjacent to his Toa Payoh home early this year. Previously a beer and hard liquor drinker, he now buys a bottle or two of red wine from the store fortnightly.

Denise in Woodlands also plans to cultivate a wine drinking culture in the community by rollling out introductory wine classes and wine-tasting sessions at the store.

The challenge of selling wine in the heartland, say retailers, lies in keeping the cost affordable for their price-sensitive consumers.

They are helped in this by the lower rents for shop units in HDB blocks, which may be as much as 80 per cent cheaper than similar sized stores in downtown and mall locations.

'I sell my wines at a 20 per cent lower mark-up than downtown stores because my rental is relatively cheap,' says Euro Link's Mr Chew, who pays less than $4,000 per month for each of his outlets and prices most of his wines between $15 and $20.

The bulk of the wines sold at five heartland wine stores, are priced between $20 and $30, mostly for everyday drinking.

As for competition from supermarkets, wine retailers remain generally upbeat.

Wine Fella's Mr Foo says: 'About 80 per cent of the wines we carry are made exclusively available to us and are not available in supermarkets. They mostly come from boutique vineyards in South Africa for example, which we've sourced ourselves.'

Mr David Lim, 36, founder of Denise The Wine Shop, has 'a good gut feeling' about the potential for wine shops expanding into the heartland.

He says: 'While our outlet at Woodlands is an experiment to test the market's response, I'm already scouting for the next location, which will possibly be in Tampines.'


Prices are lower than in town

WHERE to find wine shops in the heartland:

Euro Link Wines and Spirits

Block 85A, Lorong 4 Toa Payoh, 01-324; Tel: 6255-7271; Open: 11am to 7pm (Mon to Fri), 11am to 5pm (Sat, Sun and public holidays)

Price range: $15 for a bottle of Franzia, a Californian red wine to $150 for a bottle of vintage French red wine.

Euro Link Wine Station

Block 34, Whampoa West, 01-09; Tel: 6392-5536; Open: noon to 6pm (Mon to Sat and public holidays, closed on Sun)

Price range: Same as above.

Wine Fella

92 Lorong 4 Toa Payoh, 01-274; Tel: 6352-2415; Open: 11am to 2pm and 6 to 8pm daily

Price range: $16 for a bottle of Chilean red wine to $150 for a bottle of Tommasi Amarone from Italy

Wine Wise

Block 57, Eng Hoon Street, 01-86; Tel: 6227-2118; Open: 11am to 2pm and 6 to 10pm daily

Price range: $18 for a 375ml bottle of Australian red or white wine to $44 for a 750ml bottle of Australian port

Denise The Wine Shop

30 Woodlands Avenue 1, 01-02 and 01-18, The Woodgrove; Tel: 6367-2633; Open: 11am to 11pm daily

Price range: $30 for a bottle of Kaesler, an Australian white or red wine to $2,000 for a bottle of vintage wine from Burgundy

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