Heart of glass

Weekend Glitz | Cara Chen 25 Oct 2019

The more expensive the bottle of wine, the greater the taste we expect from it. But even a priceless wine can go to ruin if it isn't served in the right glass.

This detail is not always appreciated.

We might hear people complain about a poor selection from the sommelier or inadequate storage, but we seldom hear anyone blaming the drinking glass.

So for Victor Ulrich, who works for 263-year-old luxury wine glass manufacturer Riedel as vice president of sales and marketing for the Asia Pacific area, it's important to teach people to drink wine in the right glass.

“We’re not competing with each other. I’m standing here to deliver the message from the bottle in front of you to your customers,” Ulric said at an opening speech of a glass tasting for wine suppliers.

“Each grape has a story to tell,” he continued. “Just like high-end speakers for music, we are producing loudspeakers for each specific wine.”

His passion for wine began in his home of Alsace, where he was immersed in the culture of wine. The French region produces over 150 million bottles of wine every year, 90 percent of which are white wine.

“Wine is something you can’t understand when you are too young because nobody drinks wine when they are five,” he said.

“My interest in wine started simply because I admire Alsace’s beautiful landscape.”

He then went to Bordeaux to study business, choosing it because his teachers in Bordeaux were specialized in the wine industry.

“For me, wine is not about ability and learning, it’s about the experience,” he said, adding that he prepared himself for the industry in three ways: reading, traveling, and more tasting.

Although he has read a great deal on the subject of wine, Ulrich prefers traveling as a way of learning the stories and traditions behind each wine firsthand. The more knowledge you have, he says, the better you can understand and interpret the wine.

He has just returned from Margaret River, the last leg of his wine region tour of Australia, a trip which started about six years ago when he was a student in Melbourne.

“It’s about the culture of specific regions and wineries,” Ulrich said.

He sees Bordeaux as his second hometown, as it is one of the most famous wine regions in the world and gives opportunities to taste different wine.

It is opportunity like a nine-month internship at the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux that allowed him to gain valuable experience through the chance to try wines that were not yet available on the market.

The UGCB also put Ulrich where he is today, as he met Riedel’s European sales director, who was looking for a person to join Riedel, at a wine fair organized by the company.

After a year and a half, he was promoted to his current role by Maximilian Riedel, the CEO and the 11th generation descendant of the Riedel family, becoming the youngest appointed top executive from outside of the Riedel family.

Ulrich describes this to luck and says the key to his successful career in the family-run business was the ability to change his mindset.

“To deal with a family business, you have to step out the limitation of age, as the company cares more about what you can do for the company than your age,” he said.

“When the opportunity comes, believe in yourself, grab the chance, and prove yourself.”

Changing mindsets is also a constant challenge for Ulrich, as his work takes him across to Asia to conduct glass tastings, requiring him to adapt to the different wine cultures and consumption habits.

For example, the Hong Kong market has no duty tax on wine and passionate wine connoisseurs, while the Vietnamese market has a high duty tax and a local wine industry still in its early stages.

With Ulrich spending four days a week traveling around Asia and usually conducting one or two glass tastings a week, there is a constant need to switch mindsets.

“It’s quite busy, but I like it because it’s more flexible,” he said. “The Riedel family and I are all wine lovers, so it’s enjoyable to share the right way of tasting wine with wine lovers all over the world.”

As he talks about his travels, Ulrich recalled his dream from when he didn’t know much about wine, which, just like most little boys, was to be a fighter pilot.

“I’m not a pilot, but I’m on the plane traveling, so that’s not bad,” he laughed.

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