If you have lived in Macau for some time you most probably know Karen Gaignon. If you are new, you definitely want to know Karen.
Karen Gagnon has been in Macau for over eight years and has worked at a Michelin-starred restaurant, is a mother to two kids, sold thousands of wine bottles and has become known for some of the most fun wine tastings in town. We’ve managed to catch Karen between her kids’ school and work meetings and ask some questions about work, family and, of course, wine.
Tell us about yourself and how did you come to live in Macau?
I arrived in Macau in 2010 after living for five years in London where I was a sommelier in a restaurant group. My first job in Macau was an assistant sommelier at The Kitchen restaurant in Grand Lisboa Macau. After my son was born (Nathan, who is now six) I took a short break and then the opportunity arrived to work at Macau Fine Wine Bazaar as a sales manager – to work with hotels and restaurants.
Now I am working with EMW (East Meets West Fine Wines), a new Macau company, which means my job now is to set up an office, get a warehouse and get the business going. EMW was founded 15 years ago by two French men and has offices in six Chinese cities, including Hong Kong and Shanghai, and now in Macau.
Macau is a well-developed wine market. Is there space for another wine company?
Definitely. We are strong because we are different, we bring some exclusive wines to the market such as John Duval from Australia and Ornellaia from Italy and a lot of boutique wines you won’t be able to find in a supermarket. We also have a diverse wine portfolio, including wines from Switzerland, Spain and even China.
After so many years in the industry, as a sommelier and then sales representative you must know your wine very well! How big of a wine drinker are you?
Yes, of course, I am a wine drinker (smiles). I try not to drink Monday to Thursday lunchtime (laughs). And then Thursday night I have a glass, or two, and then Friday and Saturday it goes on. I am very open-minded when it comes to wine; my choice also depends on the weather and how I feel. I discover new wines every day, our portfolio at EMW is very big and I try a lot of wines for work. And, of course, now is the rose season, I really enjoy Maison Saint Aix.
With ever-evolving wine industry, how do you stay on top of your game?
I speak a lot with sommeliers and other wine people. I always listen to our clients, especially during the tastings. EMW represents three Chinese wineries from three different regions and it is definitely a country to watch. Is it a very exciting market. For example, Legacy Peak has some of the most famous Cabernet in the region. If you do a blind tasting it’s hard to say if it’s New or Old World.
You became well-known in Macau for organizing some of the best wine events, what are the essentials of a good wine party?
Choose the right day, Friday night is always a hit. Good selection of wine and, of course, tasty food.
Being a mother of two and working full-time setting up a new company, how do you balance the two demanding roles?
Being present is essential. Switching off computer and phone during the weekends is a must. I love spending time with my kids and listening to their stories after school. In our family, it is a lot about the balance and my husband helps me a lot as well.
You and your husband Mathieu are working in the same industry, how does it affect your life?
It is really funny in a way, wine is everywhere in our life. Believe it or not, we have three wine fridges at home and we do a lot of blind tasting at home. Mathieu works at The Seasons, MUST, as a wine director. He has his wine fridge and I have my own wine fridge so we don’t know what each of us brings to a blind tasting. It is a lot of fun.
Macau has been your home for almost eight years, what do you like most about it?
When we first arrived in Macau we didn’t know what to expect. We’ve worked long hours and started meeting people from many different cultures, a lot of them became our friends. Since then we had two kids who are now true Macau kids – their English is good, their Mandarin is good, their Cantonese is good, but French – not so good (laughs)! We love Macau weekends and often go to Coloane for a picnic in Hac Sa (by Hac Sa playground) or enjoy sangria with friends in Fernando’s Restaurant. You can often find us in Ristorante La Gondola as well. A recent favorite is a Thai restaurant in the Fisherman’s Wharf (Talay Thai Restaurant & Bar) as well as Vic’s Restaurante, the Portuguese restaurant in the Rocks Hotel. It’s outdoor and it’s really nice.
Check out her taste at EMW Wines www.emw-wines.com.