It is no surprise that Phillip Lim, an ACS boy, approaches his command of Mandarin in a self-depreciating manner. During his 30 years of working in television, one of his most unforgettable moments was directing a Chinese Mediacorp drama. Phillips’ peers, crew and cast, which included Tay Peng Hui and Rebecca Lim, found it a little humorous that Phillip, who professes that his Mandarin “can pass but isn’t great”, was helming a Mandarin TV series.
“Why don’t you just stick to English shows?”
Here’s what he said in reply to this oft-asked question: “I did it for my mother. She is Chinese-educated, but would watch all the TV shows I made, even though she didn’t understand much of the English that the actors spoke. Nonetheless, she would watch till the credits to see my name. I directed this Chinese drama so that my mom could watch and enjoy the entire series.”
This is the preamble that explains why Phillip will do something even if the odds are against him; he just needs a compelling reason to.
At the pinnacle of his career, Phillip was gifted a great bottle of wine. He stored this bottle under his bed. When Phillip hit a low point, he drank all the wines in his house and drank lots of cheap wine, but forgot about that bottle. When he chanced upon that expensive bottle, it inspired him to work hard to get out of his slump. “I told myself, ‘Phil, you better work hard so that you can drink good wine again’,” he shares.
Phillip first learned how to appreciate wine from his former ACS classmate Edward Chew, director of Vine Group, which imports, distributes and retails wine, from ancient to new wine producing countries. Vine Group also handles wine-centric seminars, formal education, expositions, social dinners, chateau tours, cellar curation and just about anything themed on oenology.
Edward and his company opt to skip batches of wines that they predict will not appreciate in value, but have yielded healthy returns otherwise. One of his better returns to date was a bottle of Lafite Rothschild 2008, which he bought for €135 a bottle and sold for €1,600.
Phillip decided to dabble in wine futures, which is to buy wines that are yet to be bottled and aged, and would discover two years later that it appreciated by 25%.
Wine futures is a programme spearheaded by wine-producing regions like Bordeaux that, in turn, helps chateaus cover their immediate overheads, which have increased steeply in recent times. Wines sold at these preferential prices will be left to mature in these chateaus for two to three years.
Elated, Phillip told his friends about his windfall over dinner and encouraged them to follow suit. However, he remembers that one friend at the table looked unamused.
“That friend of mine replied that he had lost money on wine futures. The wine merchant he made a purchase from had closed, leaving him with nothing but an invoice,” Phillip discloses. “I felt bad for him and I did not want my friends to think that I was scamming them.”
During the maturation period of the wines, a chateau might close, because labour and raw materials are much more expensive than they used to be, which is why most wine futures buyers only trust very established wine merchants. Wine futures mitigates these issues, thus removing risk if the wine merchant closes.
Upon discovering the dark side of wine futures, Phillip, instead of backing away, was motivated to protect other wine buyers from getting swindled.
Phillip first asked Edward to give him a masterclass on wine futures, who corroborated that many people who buy wine futures lose money when the chateau or merchant close shop or run away. Edward also echoed Phillip’s observation that many investors are averse to wine futures because they can’t see their commodity.
“Edward already had a pool of clientele, so how could I interest more people in reaping the rewards of wine appreciation?” Phillip recalls asking. “I met up with another good friend who manages many tech startups. ‘Is there technology that can give would-be buyers added assurance?’ His reply was ‘NFTs’.”
NFTs would help Phillip and Vine Group reach a larger audience. NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are unique digital assets that track ownership and authenticity on a blockchain. Leveraging Edward’s strong international ties, blockchain-ing the wine purchasing process would also give buyers direct excess to traders and chateaus, cutting out the middlemen.
“You can keep your investment and slowly drink it, or you can liquidate your investment anytime on an NFT platform like vineart.org.”
Edward (left) and Phillip standing with the NFT-protected wines that they sold. Phillip doesn’t have issues with people who drink cheap wine. “Everyone needs to start somewhere. If you start with cheap wine, it can be very thrilling when you discover wines of higher and higher quality.”
“As a film director, I am always creating things. In television, I look for four things: a story that can resonate with people, the craft of telling a story that connects, the right actors and feeling that can tell a good story, and lastly, the money must make sense. I used to knock on doors pitching TV show concepts to interested parties. Now, I knock on doors telling people that NFTs are the future of wine buying.”
Phillip took on the role of advisor with Vine Group. When Phillip and Vine Group’s inaugural 2019 batch of NFT-protected wines were ready for sale, they chanced upon Dunstan Teo, who is president of a blockchain company and expert in all things crypto and NFT. An advisor of various enterprises and builder of sovereign-level technology, Dunstan saw the potential of what Edward and Phillip had created, and swiftly snapped up all the 2019 wine futures, which are currently worth S$3.2 million and expected to soar.
“All the documentation of your wine purchase will be in a blockchain and your NFT will be in your wallet,” Phillip explains. He is currently busy standardising the wine information in all the NFTs, which include certificate of origin, bottling details, customs number and other pertinent data, and is preparing to launch 2020’s batch of wine futures. Vine Group has big developments planned for the near future, but Phillip cannot reveal them yet, except that the 2020 batch will be “a few times bigger” than that of 2019’s S$3.2-million-dollar batch. “Everything is linked together and you have proof of ownership, so even if a merchant or chateau shutters, you can sell your wine NFT on any NFT marketplace. When more people see what I’m doing, traders of other commodities will see the potential of Vine Group’s NFTs.”
Phillip shows me one of his favourite white wines. Well known as a very high-quality white wine, this Bordeaux Blanc has no label on its description save for the letter “Y”.
“Yes, there is minimal risk and the price of your wines will appreciate, as the 30 plus chateaus we work with are well known.”
Although Phillip’s mission is to ensure the security of wine investments, he reveals that his favourite part of drinking wine is its gamble.
“I drink wine because I see each wine as a story. Each is like a blind date; I can be pleased or I can be disappointed. Sometimes, after you let a good wine breathe, it can become a great wine, then from dating, your relationship with this wine becomes a serious marriage.”
He shows me one of his favourites, the Tertre Roteboeuf, which unexpectedly reached perfection after he let it breathe for two hours.
Phillip isn’t retired. When he isn’t telling stories about wine, he still writes stories for TV.
“Unlike whiskey, which is predictable, every bottle of wine is an unpredictable adventure. I’m a thrill-seeker,” he remarks. Phillip goes on to describe a time when he was shooting a taxi scene deep in the heart of rural Malaysia, and his producer had forgotten to hire a taxi for the scene. “I take occurrences like that in good stride. Likewise, I encourage other buyers to be open to unpredictability and adventure.”
What does he do when he doesn’t like how his “blind date” tastes?
“I just open a familiar bottle of wine that I know will be good. I’m lucky that with Edward, I’ve had the privilege of tasting many good wines. With selling wine, I’ve found a new outlet for my same skill set. I like telling stories and now I get to do that with wines,” remarks the only man in the region selling NFTs for wine futures.
Some of Phillip’s favourite wines can be purchased at Edward’s bar, Bar A Vin. “We are drinking death,” Phillip jokes. “The yeast and grapes are dead. Experts taste them and award them points according to how well they think the contents of each bottle will age over time.”
The three biggest influencers of Phillip’s life: “My late parents, who watched all my TV shows, and Clint Eastwood, who always works within budget, shoots on schedule and doesn’t shoot more than two takes.”
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