Wine & Investments: An interview with Auctioneer Simon Tam
Food lover, passionate scuba diving instructor, wine expert, Christie’s alumni, founder of Aeos Auctions – Simon Tam is a man of varied experiences and a wealth of knowledge. We caught up with the seasoned auctioneer to learn about his craft and relish in his lively character…
Was there one particular glass or moment that sparked your love of wine?
I come from a family of restaurateurs and grew up in our restaurants in Australia – good food, good wines, good company, laughter and conversations were the norm for me. I often thought to myself, ‘What an interesting industry to get into.’ My surroundings made me adventurous with food and wine. I love trying new tastes, and the sights, sounds and smell of a working kitchen have always fascinated me – they still somehow evoke the deepest part of my memories. When you’re surrounded by food and wine as a child, it leaves an impression.
Infamously, I not only tried wine for the first time at 13, but also spiked it with Coca-Cola! It was the early ’80s, and I happened to ‘borrow’ a bottle of 1961 Château Lafite from my mother’s cellar and had my first sip. I instantly loved the smell, though not so much the taste. The moment I added Coke, I knew it was going to be my life-long poison [laughs].
I was in high school when I first made wine. My friends and I had a pact that in the winter holidays we would teach skiing and in summer we’d make wine. That was a turning point for me, and I haven’t looked back; I think wine is the only thing I know.
How did your journey evolve from opening Hong Kong’s first wine school back in 1996 to founding Aeos Auctions last year?
Amazing. The wine industry is a melting pot of generous, kind, and funny people from different cultures and parts of the world. I’ve been very fortunate with mentors in my career and my decades of professional experience which have prepared me for running an auction house – it’s been a fulfilling, fun learning journey.
Tell us about your 10 years at Christie’s and how this shaped you today as an auctioneer?
[In 2010] I was the first Chinese appointed as the Head of Wine at Christie’s in Hong Kong. I started with the China market, which was growing rapidly in the fine-wine sector; it was a great honour to be heading the ever-expanding China team, and then my role grew to head wine for the whole of Asia.
As an organisation, Christie’s is amazing – the client service experience is second to none, people are passionate about their jobs, and there’s an incredible amount of knowledge and expertise in all departments. I am grateful for the rich learning environment I got to be in. I discovered that the business of auctions is exhilarating – it gave me butterflies each time the gavel came pounding down on the podium.
What are the best as well as the worst aspects of your profession?
The best aspects of the wine and auction industries are the people – the passion, the motivation that drives people to understand, taste and collect wine is exemplary. It doesn’t get mundane – no two days are the same; there’s always something new to learn and some of the best, most colourful and kindest people I’ve met in life are wine lovers.
The worst part, I would say, is an empty bottle [laughs]. But there’s always another one…
“There’s always something new to learn [in the wine industry] and some of the best, most colourful and kindest people I’ve met in life are wine lovers”
Any underrated wines which people should know about and appreciate?
Now, I am tasting and drinking a lot of New Zealand Pinot Noir – it’s one of my favourite grapes; Sauvignon Blanc may be New Zealand’s calling card, but the country has built a formidable reputation for handling this Burgundy grape remarkably well. Winemakers there have been mastering this fickle grape from more than 20 years, and I am absolutely smitten. The region’s cool climate gives an impressive and eclectic depth, purity, freshness, complexity and exoticness to the variety.
You’ve been in the industry for more than 30 years. Can you reveal the best business advice you’ve ever received?
I’ve been mentored by several people at different times in my career, and everyone had something valuable to say, but the advice that stood out for me was from my mother. She said, ‘Treat everyone the same way – a janitor or a CEO.’ That’s the most beautiful life lesson for me; when you are capable of doing anything in life, the least you can do is treat people with kindness. It has certainly helped me make a lot of genuine friends in and out of this industry.
What denotes a fantastic food and wine pairing?
Now we’re talking! I grew up in an environment of food, wine and laughter, but I took it ahead and decided to explore how Asian food pairs with wine – an Indian sabzi, Thai green curry, Vietnamese pho, chilli-laced noodles… Asian food runs a gamut of flavours, and the standard wine rules don’t always apply. Sometimes red meat and red wine work, sometimes white meat and white wines work, but the world is so much more diverse than that.
Some of my pairings are unorthodox – I love spicy food and instead of drowning out the chilli, I want the wine to exaggerate the drama. If I wanted my wine to dull or flatten the spice, I might as well have bland food, no? I also feel that the finest food and wines should be reserved for the highlight moments of your life, so for weekends and regular get-togethers find wines that fit your lifestyle and match the occasion.
“Some of my pairings are unorthodox – I love spicy food and instead of drowning out the chilli, I want the wine to exaggerate the drama”
Since you’re so passionate about food and wine, is opening a restaurant in the pipeline?
Hospitality is in my blood and I love the industry, but much to my parents’ disappointment, none of their three boys carried on the family business. I like the idea of having my own restaurant, but it’s way too much hard work – whenever everyone else is chilling and having their downtime, like Christmas or New Year, you’re working. I’ve lived that life and made a conscious decision to have some balance.
Tell us about your other passions.
That would be underwater photography and scuba diving. I am an accomplished scuba diving instructor but, wait for it, I can’t swim. I am extremely skilled in water; I know my buoyancy, but I just can’t swim long laps. Being underwater is paradise – it’s such a thrilling and a humbling experience; a true realisation that the universe is majestic and you’re a tiny, tiny part of it. Both underwater photography and scuba diving bring balance and a diverse perspective to my above-ground life.
What brings you happiness in life?
Laughing with my son. He’s 15-years-old, remarkably intelligent – I can’t take credit for that – has a very good sense of humour and is a gorgeous human being. I just love being with him, laughing with him, and we have a delicious time together.
What are your vices?
I can’t be left alone in a supermarket – I just can’t be trusted with a wallet and a shopping cart! I am an obsessive, impulsive kitchen and gadget shopper. I absolutely love to cook and entertain – in fact, I eat out only for work purposes – so I cannot do without a fully functional pantry. And when I’m in a supermarket, there’s always this urge to buy extra for dinner with friends, or an impromptu party at home…
If you could have any wine with any cuisine tonight, what would it be?
I would drink my own wine. I made it before leaving Australia and my godparents have kept a stock, pair it with my godmother’s Brien Stew and Suet pudding. It’s outrageously delicious! Reliving my childhood, my happiest days, while sipping my own wine – now that’s home for me.
(Interview by: Nikita Mishra; Photographer: Jack Law; Art Direction and Styling: Jhoshwa Ledesma; Videographer: Kes Lei Venue: Aeos Auctions Office)