Q&A with Candice Chow

Candice Chow

The charming and incredibly kind Raymond Chan sadly passed away over a year ago. He left a big gap in many lives and the New Zealand wine industry that won’t be able to be filled.

Candice Chow, a talented young somm, is about to continue Raymond’s legacy, relaunching his wine review services and platform.

A courageous move by the self-claimed wine addict who started as a sommelier in her native Hong Kong 15 years ago and worked in high-end Queenstown restaurants for more than a decade. A move that introduces a new generation to the New Zealand wine scoring scene and one that will be watched closely for sure.

So let’s find out more about Candice and her exciting new venture…

Tell us about yourself. What do you do? 

Hi, my name is Candice. I’m a wine addict!

I’m from a hospitality background, from chain restaurants, clubs, hotels to 3-Michelin starred restaurant and New Zealand celebrity chef’s establishments.

I grew up in Hong Kong, spent a couple of years in Australia before residing in New Zealand, Queenstown for the past 11 years.

I left the hospo life last year after a good couple of decades. I wanted to work with wine but not wanting to be tied to a brand or a portfolio, so I started my own company Candice Wine Chat. The idea was to consult wine lists, staff training, wine tasting events and wine education, do what I do best.

However, it’s just like every other business, need to adjust over time, depend on the market demand. So I did more Wine Chat tastings, events and training more than others. Up until COVID lockdown which cancelled all the plans for the year literally, it was very depressing.

During the lockdown, the idea of Raymond Chan Reviews came to light, so I started to prepare for it more than just in my brain since May. I’m offering independent, assessment-based wine reviews, free access for all on the website, just the way Raymond used to operate. It’s very exciting and nerve-racking at the same time, Raymond was so loved by the industry, so I have big shoes to fill.

Tell us more about your plans to continue his legacy

The response has been incredible from wineries. There are already over 100 new wine reviews on the new Raymond Chan Wine Reviews website as it launches. And I will continue to provide my service to restaurants, cellar doors and hosting wine events etc.

This is one of the craziest ideas that I had, and it is coming to life! I was a big fan of Raymond’s writing, and I appreciate his palate very much. I missed his detail tasting note with the consideration of technical information, which I thought it’s so essential to understand wine and its maker’s style. I was hoping that someone would pick it up and keep doing it. When I visited Martinborough back in December, I happened to bring this up in a conversation, then with some encouragement and an introduction to Sue Davies. Here I am. I’ve never dreamt of being a wine writer; it’s quite surreal.

All I want is to continue to offer the same as Raymond did, which many others and I both missed. The wine reviews were so useful to me and many others, I used the website a lot when I was working in restaurants, it is impossible to have everyone on the team tasted everything on the wine list, it would be ideal, but not always the case. So I would look up his reviews and get a good picture of the wine so I can use the information to recommend to customers and for staff training. 

I’m excited to continue Raymond’s legacy and have the opportunity to give back to the New Zealand wine industry; over the years, I had so many chances to learn about wine in this beautiful country, helped me so much with my career. I want to do my little part while I do what I love. 

The website will continue as Raymond Chan Wine Reviews with all his previous work over 10,000 wine reviews available for everyone when they need, just the way it was before!

Why did you decide to become a sommelier? Would you recommend it to other aspiring wine professionals?

Firstly, I fell in love with wine since very early on in my career started in Hong Kong. I had the opportunity to work with a few of the top sommeliers in Hong Kong at the time, serving fine wines from all over the world. It was fascinating; it’s an art on how to serve correctly, how to enjoy. It’s also like a different language, so much to learn. 

Secondly, it’s the nature of my competitiveness. I worked with a lot of boys in fine dining back in Hong Kong, traditionally, very few female worked front of house in fine dining. I like to be good at what I do, so I read and went to all the tastings and classes available to build up my knowledge and expertise. 

The wine world is a bottomless hole; you can only dig deeper and deeper; it doesn’t end. I’m on the last unit of the WSET diploma, will see where it takes after that.

Of course, I would recommend it! If you have a passion for anything, go for it. Don’t need anyone’s permission. Especially nowadays, knowledge is so easy to access. Sommelier is a skilful profession; it takes a lot of experience and expertise to become a good one. When I was in the restaurant trade, I tasted about 30-50 wines weekly, palate training is essential. Being a sommelier is not only searching for what I like, but margin, market demand, food match; they are all vital detail to consider to make it work for the restaurants and the suppliers. It’s an art and a real skill to compose an interesting and balanced wine list. On the other hand, you work with a lot of people, listen to lots of great stories and history; the best perks of the job is the travel, winery visits and experiences. It’s a gratifying and fun profession.

Candice Chow

What does a typical working day look like for you?

First, I need a cup of tea in the morning; otherwise, I can’t function. Then get dressed, head to town with my computer and wine samples. I use a little space in a hotel in town to work; I’m not very good at working from home, I tried, I was in my pyjamas all-day, always snacking, talks to nobody, which feels terrible. 

I start with checking emails, then tasting, writing reviews, events planning, accounting, etc. Once in a while, I will need to regroup if too many things on, otherwise I’d do them as they come. The last thing is to plan for the next day, walk home, open wine deliveries, then be a mom and cook dinner. 

Which wines/varietal or region are you most excited about at the moment?

I’m really excited about New Zealand Albariño and Syrah, high quality; they have great potential. 

If you were a wine, what wine would you be?

That’s a hard question. I would be a dry Riesling, I think. I have a dry sense of humour, can be sour sometimes. Persistence and stubborn on things I believe is right. Although I could be interesting, it’s a hard sell. Haha.

Share a fact about yourself that only a few know.

I can eat continuously for hours, all day long if the food comes in bite-size, but if I got served a big plate, I’d be full after a few bites. Same with wine and beer, small tasters I can go on forever, a whole pint of beer will last me for 2 hours. 

Top 3 things to do in the Queenstown area

  1. Visiting wineries and dine at winery restaurants.
  2. Drink wine by the fire.
  3. Drink more wine during or after any adventure activities. 

Dead or alive, who would you like to share a glass of vino with?

Raymond Chan and Sue Davies. I wish I had met Raymond, I’ve only connected through his writings, wouldn’t it be great to have his approval? Sue Davies, I will come for you soon!

Cheers Candice and good luck for the launch!

Check out Raymond Chan Wine Reviews here and make sure you follow Candice on Instagram and Facebook.