Interview: Elliot from BoundbyWine

When Wines Meet Watches

Date Published
Nov 12, 2022
Author
Samuel Ng
Category
Gnomon Viewpoint
SponsoredAcme Inc.

The BoundbyWine duo

Amid the global pandemic, several business sectors were hit heavily, while most are filled with worries about whether things will ever be back to normal again. We saw this significant decline in the food and beverages sector, which was most affected. For instance, many local food stalls and restaurants struggled through the lockdowns, and when most spent more time at home. Due to these inevitable restrictions, many businesses gradually closed down as the situation dragged on like a never-ending horror story.

Now, I mention this on the F&B segment because, during this awful period, some viewed this as a stellar opportunity to take an enthusiastic step towards establishing their entrepreneurship. It might seem odd at first – perhaps even impish – to start a business during these hard times, yet that is exactly what Elliot and his longtime girlfriend Germaine have done in their wine-selling career. Born in Singapore with a mix of Belgian and Hongkonger blood in him, Elliot has had a passion for viticulture since he was young. And together with his significant other, they started an online wine-subscription company known as “BoundByWine” in 2018 and haven’t looked back since.

Their newly open wine shop along hipster street Joo Chiat

Recently, both of them ameliorated their wine business by establishing their first physical store in Singapore, which further sealed their passion for wine. We certainly can’t argue – the affable couple has made things work out, with several successful events for wine-lovers and, of course, a nonstop flow of patrons chuffed in their vino purchases every single day. As a wine lover myself (as you can see through our IG stories), I stumbled on the chance to learn more about the convergence between watch culture and wine-retailing in Singapore. There’s definitely an interesting discussion to be had about everything in-between the fine taste of both, from tasting notes to the mechanical workings of a watch.

  1. Let’s begin somewhat counterintuitively, not by talking watches, but with a discussion about you. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do for work. 

Well, I live in Singapore, and I’m now 27 years old. Since my youth, I have lived and breathed in the world of wine, or should I say, alcohol, in general, laugh. But out of all the booze, I find drinks made from fermented grapes the most appealing for me. Thus selling wine was a longtime idea of mine, which came to fruition a few years back by starting my own company. This winery firm that I co-founded was realized with the push of my partner/beloved Germaine, and we named our business “BoundbyWine.” 

Elliot behind his bar counter handling some online orders

Before this, I was working full-time in Product Management for several tech startups, and essentially got bored, and solely this excuse made me want to start a business myself. So in 2018, Germaine and I started a small subscription wine company, where we mainly introduced and delivered all sorts of wines for our customers who share the same tastes. 

  1. So now we know how you started BoundByWine. May I know what was the drive behind it? 

Well, BoundbyWine started and still lives by the simple idea of helping people to find the perfect wine for them. Or at least to create a realization for them on what varieties they unconsciously love. Another goal was to essentially bring the idea of curated options to guide and assist people in exploring the complicated world of wines. We all know too many people end up sticking strictly to a certain wine, but they might be unclear about the reasons why they picked it in the first place and because they simply don’t know what’s out there that they are truly missing. 

Bottles and bottles

So. Germaine and I started about three years ago with an online wine subscription service, where we curate monthly deliveries of wine based on someone’s taste profile. Later, we expand their horizons and educate them more by hosting several wine tastings with our suppliers throughout the year, which leads us to sell more varieties of wine online. These tasting events allow us to work with more partners and bring new customers on board with us. And now, finally, we’ve opened a physical store in the Joo Chiat area of Singapore!

  1. Coming out like this must have been quite intimidating, no? Starting your career with a leap into the unknown. 

Indeed it was initially, especially the point of diving into this full time. It’s a very unnerving decision to make, but it really paid off emotionally. Working on something that is your own and being fully passionate about it is an amazing feeling nevertheless, and it’s hard to describe. However, the tough part is keeping yourself in check, and there’s no time to be slothful. In fact, that’s the biggest struggle for me, like giving excuses and telling yourself that “anything can be done tomorrow.”

They have their wines arranged in alphabetical order

Honestly, I believe that we had a good transition into things, as we’d been building the company for three years before we truly turned this into a full-time career. With more people giving us a go by subscribing and attending our wine-tasting events, this made the transition a lot less frightening. It’s also more comfortable this way as it’s not like we were starting afresh, but rather just cranking up the gears.

  1. What are your favorite wine picks? Are there any that you feel a need to get people interested in? 

What got me into wine was actually a South African Pinotage that was not popular, to begin with, in Singapore. I loved that it wasn’t too tannic (or siap for Singapore friends), and the sweetness of the plum and figs really got me hooked immediately. Over time, another one was Spanish Albarino which became a huge go-to for me. I love its versatility, and it doesn’t need food pairing. In fact, I like to enjoy a wine on its own because of that. The floral aromatic of the Spanish Albarino totally fits the bill and will always be a go-to for me.

Recently, I’ve started to shift my tastebuds and enjoy a light and acidic red wine. A tart wine that is fresh and red fruit-based, like a cool-climate Syrah, Nebbiolo, or Grenache blend, hits the spot for me. Light, refreshing, but with enough weight to pair with light, simple meals. 

Many regulars could be found often in their store

I strongly perceive wine to be like a journey, and for everyone, including myself, it also means that your tastes will change periodically, and you will not get it right the first time. The key is to be okay in trying a wine or grape varietal that you’ve never tried before; accepting that you might not like the wine is an important mindset. 

There are so many unique grapes from smaller regions like Georgia, Moldova, Croatia, Bulgaria, and even within the popular countries, there are regional grapes that people can explore. It’s just hard to make a decision alone sometimes about which to jump into, and that’s totally understandable.

  1. I bet running a wine business has its fair share of challenges, especially in Singapore, where there are other competitors. 

To be honest, the store was probably our biggest challenge to date. We had to adapt to the operations as this was the first time my partner and I ran partner ran a retail store. Even up to this day, we still operate as a diminutive, dynamic duo, and since the renovation and official launch of the store, it wasn’t a walk-in-the-park kind of process. And all that while keeping our online subscription and sales going, was super back-breaking.

Elliot swirling a Malbec with his Steinhart Ocean 42 Premium Green

However, with that said, staying status quo and solely operating online was, in fact, halting our long-term brand mission. What we realized was that, other than our subscribers, most of our online purchases are simply those common, recurrent wines, in which a lot of them were already tried and tested repeatedly, either over at a friend’s place or a restaurant, etc. And the key transition point was when we realized our subscribers were actually keen on exploring when we had our wine tasting sessions.

So yes, we knew that a physical store would bring all that together and were determined that the space we have would nurture and build our customer taste and knowledge. On the other side, while getting a physical storefront was the most daunting, it was definitely also the most rewarding in terms of showcasing our brand value and gaining our customers’ confidence to explore beyond their repetitive comfort zone. Also, with the given space, we now have the ability to run wine events more regularly, creating an even deeper personal relationship with our customers. It’s really rewarding when someone praises you with stuff like, “I loved your recommendation. I never thought of giving it a try before.”

Now what’s left is to stabilize it all financially and continue sourcing quality, unique wines for people to try.

  1. Other than wines, are there any hobbies you can’t live without? 

Well, that’s easy. Exercise, period. Because I will die in five years with all that wine, (from tasting and events), if I don’t make exercise a hobby.

  1. Circling back to watches now: it’s possibly one of the dullest ways to start this conversation, but could you tell us a little about how you collected your first Steinhart watch? 

I would definitely not call myself a collector per se. At least for now, although I’ve owned a few watches throughout the years. I do love sleek and simple watch faces, to be honest. There’s just something beautiful about simplicity for me.

Apart from his Steinhart, he has kept most of his watches since young

My father used to redeem aviation-themed watches using air miles *laugh both us, and gift them to me every once in a while. That is where I got my fair share of exposure to watches beyond one of my first rubber strapped sports Casio watch, which every kid has in Singapore. The beauty of a Singapore Airlines Limited Edition Aviators’ watch that my father gifted to me was what sparked it off.

His Skagen piece that he kept although it doesn’t work anymore

As time progressed, I got pretty interested in Skagen watches. Mainly the reason being they present a slim profile and clean dial. It was also probably the only watch brand I could afford with that kind of look at that point in life. Haha, at least based on what I knew myself.

My Steinhart is the latest one! And honestly, a gift from my beloved partner that I really treasure. PS. She picked a Cartier Santos when it became my turn. Sorry I digress. I absolutely love it, and it probably sparked my flame in this new expensive hobby. Though I do feel like I resonate a lot with pilot watches, this Ocean Green Premium just felt right for me. Always have there be something about being in the air that is comforting to me. The Steinhart Diver opened up my world to watches. Flipped it over, and boy, just take a look at how the mechanical components work harmoniously, like a perfect Bordeaux blend in the wine hobby.

  1. From a professional wine retailer’s perspective, which elements in the tangible language of horology tend to interest you most? What are the qualities that can make or break a wine? 

I would say time is, of course, an essential component of winemaking. There are so many aspects of time that impact winemaking. Everything from how wine profiles would change over time, mainly due to climate change over the decades. And how old winemaking trends such as the Georgian amphora-based bottling have resurfaced in various regions as people look to embrace lighter, fresher, younger winemaking styles again. All that complicated process to as simple as how long you let the bottle age in your wine cellar and how long you decant it before sipping.

His Aviator on a red sporty rubber strap

The most intriguing part, at least in my opinion, is how time itself is a huge factor in winemaking cultures such as biodynamic wines. And I say this as time is naturally used so differently from the “scientific” way of measuring wine’s aging and grape picking processes, against the idea of biodynamic winemaking. Instead of using temperatures, rainfall, and ripeness as factors, a huge emphasis is placed on respecting the connectedness of living organisms, the earth, and our greater solar system. It takes heavy consideration of both environmental and astronomical calendars to use time in order to measure different stages of vine farming, in tandem with various stages that represent different elements of earth, fire, water, and air.

The differences in approach are certainly fascinating. It is where you can actually see the difference in each process if you ever head down to those vineyards. You will identify that most biodynamic plots have a more “natural” environment compared to some of the large winemaking conglomerates, where it comes across as more like a mass industrial operation.

That said, for winemaking, it’s more of measurements in days, months and years, rather than seconds. So to draw a link with actual instruments is a little far-fetched, but hey, it helps me remember the date in my busy schedule!

  1. Do you find any similarities in your passion for wine with watches? 

A cliche answer would be the love for finer things laugh, but I’m not that kind of person. For me, it’s more about having an appreciation for details. What I love about both passionate watchmakers and their collectors is the attention to detail in which takes a lot of patience and finesse to create such good products.

Similarly, for great wine-makers with instinct playing a part, attention to detail is instilled throughout the winemaking process. They ought to constantly make small adjustments in order to achieve their desired vision. It’s in this dedication & drive for excellence where I see the greatest similarities

  1. What are your plans with Bound By Wine in the coming years?

I guess finding a way to offer more personalized wine recommendations in tandem with accessibility to everyone. It is definitely something we are constantly looking at. For now, it’s simply through digital content like you guys and building personal relationships. All that with a bit of guesswork at times, depending on how much people are willing to share. But if we could find a way to measure this process more accurately, as well as be able to scale our brands’ ability to provide wine recommendations, that’s something we definitely want to focus on. 

His new daily beater accompanies him through his wine journey

That’s not all. We want to continuously bring in more unique regional varietals. We have barely scraped the surface of the “unique” wine region, but honestly, it’s a journey that takes time, not only for us but also for wine drinkers.

Thank you so much for your time, Elliot! Now, let’s have some wines you would recommend to me.

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Gnomon Watches first opened her doors for business online in early 2002, founded by bona fide horology suitors who share a profound passion for watchmaking and fine craftsmanship.

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