The South of France is a long way from Hong Kong—about 6,000 miles, to be exact. And that separation is even greater than the distance suggests. Lavender-laden fields along bucolic hillsides are a far cry from the vertical chasms of the world’s most outsize urban landscape.
But Julien Peros, an up-and-coming face in Hong Kong’s wine and spirits scene, has deftly bridged the divide. Weaned on the grapes of Provence and the Rhone Valley, the once small-town somm has adapted his skillset to fit the needs of a massive hotel bar program in a city with an unwavering devotion to modernism.
As you might suspect, a young man growing up in the South of France is exposed to lots of great wine. But it’s easy to overlook the other liquids that have long proliferated in this part of the world.
“I was exposed to local hand-crafted spirits such as pastis, thyme and lavender liquors, and even génépy,” says Peros. Although it was the fermented grape that became the primary focus of his desires, Peros learned valuable lessons about the world of spirits, including how terroir carries through distillation in profound ways.
“In France, wines, spirits, liquors and beers are very connected,” he says. “So eventually I also fell in love with the unique terroirs of cognac, Calvados and Armagnac.
For Peros, a love of all things alcoholic went hand-in-hand with hospitality. “There is only one wine estate in the small city I grew up in, so I started working there for the harvests from a young age, sometimes helping them at the cellar,” he says. “I realized I was interested in exchanging with guests, creating unique experiences and pairing wines with food, so naturally I moved toward restaurants.”
After expanding his expertise at several restaurants not far from his hometown, a move to Paris had become increasingly imminent. The move to Asia, however, was one even he never saw coming.
“I got contacted by a wine company based here and decided to give it a try,” he says of the sudden departure from his native land. “In France, everybody was talking about Hong Kong as being the wine hub in Asia, so I wanted to see how it was.”
It exceeded his expectations. “You can find bottles from expensive DRC 1989 to the smallest biodynamic producer in the Yarra Valley,” says Peros. “The interest for wine has grown since the taxes were abolished in 2008. We have winemakers visiting every week, so we’re constantly updated on vintages and wine’s evolution. We also see a growing craft beer consumption, with some local beers such as Young Master being brewed in Hong Kong.”
In 2016, Peros took on his most ambitious project to date, overseeing the beverage program at the Grand Hyatt alongside Hong Kong’s iconic Victoria Harbor. And it’s not just the scope of his role here, taking the reigns for more than a dozen separate bars and restaurants on-site. It’s also the nature of the city itself. Hong Kong has a frenetic drinking scene, where people tend to be fixated on what’s new and next. Not too long ago, luxury hotels could rely on nothing more than a few fancy names on a wine list. But these days, the sky’s the limit, and the craft cocktail revolution has taken root.
Peros has to keep moving forward to stay relevant. This requires a multifaceted approach across the varied venues under his purview. At his poolside Waterfall Bar, for example, his team has cultivated a rooftop garden to provide for an ingredient-forward drink menu.
“We are currently working on a new signature cocktails list with a strong focus on artisanal rums,” he says. “We interested in spirits that express a sense of place to our guests. Our house rum will be the white rum from the boutique HSE distillery. We are also experimenting with aged cocktails in small oak barrels and very soon in small clay amphora.”
In the more reserved confines of the Champagne Bar, set off from the hotel’s stately lobby, Peros is going beyond the bubbly. “We will run two promotions very soon,” he says. “Ile de Re cognac is the only cognac from Camus aged on this small island included with the appellation.” The other involves an artful array of absinthes, intended to bring guests back to Belle Epoque–era Paris.
But with all the focus on spirits and cocktails, Peros has yet to forget his roots. He remains a sommelier, after all. “For the wine lists, our Italian restaurant will see many changes with artisanal and handcrafted wines from Sicily, Piedmont, Friuli, etc.,” he says. “We are also sourcing small allocations of back vintages—Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, super Tuscans. The idea is to offer a unique list with wines full of personality.”
Hong Kong is a long way from southern France, to be sure. Hospitality, however, knows no distance. For all the adaptiveness and flexibility demonstrated by Julian Peros on his long journey east, an ever-present intuitiveness of his audience has steered him steadily forward. Behind the bar, some skills are universal, no matter what goes in the glass.