Christopher Liang, CEO and chairman of Paragon Liquors, is intimately familiar with abundance, a fact undeniable from a perusal of the breadth of industries his businesses touch. Liang’s journey into the drinks industry and to becoming a distributor of some of the finest wines, spirits and waters in the region began as a result of passion.
“My interest in wine began long ago as a collector, while working in other sectors,” says Liang of his decision to make the jump beyond being a passive enjoyer of his myriad interests. “I decided to become an active investor and producer of wine [in 2018], when I felt I had adequate knowledge from being a collector for nearly a decade.”
Wines and the Gladstone Vineyard
Gladstone Vineyard, from where Paragon sources its catalogue of rare, fine wines, lies in the Wairarapa wine region of New Zealand, which sits perched at the south-eastern tip of the North Island. According to New Zealand Winegrowers, Wairarapa produces some of the country’s finest pinot noirs.
“[Paragon] chose to invest in Gladstone because we foresaw the growth potential of the vineyard’s fine production quality, as well as the fact that New Zealand is a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum,” says Liang. “Research reports show that the demand for Western wines in our region was increasing at a significantly higher rate than the domestic supply. Moreover, we thought New Zealand could also benefit from its special relationship with China, as there’s a free-trade agreement between the two countries.”
It’s not quite a free-for-all, though, even for wines grown within the agreed-upon region. A minimum 90 Robert Parker points serve as the benchmark as to whether or not a bottle of wine reaches Paragon’s fastidious standards for importing only the best-of-the-best for the Asia-Pacific region.
Irish Whiskey and Sliabh Liag Distillers
After New Zealand came investments on the other side of the globe in Ireland. The Legendary Silkie Irish Whiskey and An Dúlamán Irish Maritime Gin, both carefully distilled by Sliabh Liag Distillers in Ireland’s mountainous County Donegal, are Liang’s first inclusion of spirits into his then wine-forward portfolio. “We invested in Sliabh Liag Distillers as one of the first-round investors, because it passed our internal assessments for production quality, and it made sound financial sense, since there are only five countries in the world that actually create quality whisky. We also felt that adding a spirits component to our portfolio of wines would help us diversify yet maintain our focus on beverages.”
Packaged Water and beWater Phenomenal
Looking for further diversification, he then went on beyond wine and whisky to focus on other beverages including beer and notably beWater Phenomenal, released in partnership with Fortune 500 company Ball Corporation, as Asia’s first homegrown, eco-friendly canned water, which aims to support initiatives to ban single-use plastic globally.
“Our water brand beWater Phenomenal has the accolade of being one of the best tasting waters in ASEAN this year,” says Liang “and we have this very good arrangement with Ball Corporation as well as Japanese distillers Fujiwa to come up with one of the most ESG friendly and environmentally sustainable packaging designs for water using 100% aluminium casings, this is a patented design that I think will make great social impact in Asia and beyond.”
The company and Liang himself are constantly looking for new opportunities and 2022 has brought geographical expansion in the form of plans for a new base in North America. “Our plan for the rest of this year is to establish our Vancouver base for North American operations so we have a complete two prong coverage in the Asia-Pacific arena,” says Liang “with Hong Kong being our main base in Asia and Vancouver, Canada being our base for distribution across North America.”
The company and Liang himself are constantly looking for new opportunities and 2022 has brought geographical expansion in the form of plans for a new base in North America
The Canadian city has not been chosen at random and shares important commercial links with Asia as Liang explains: “We see the synergies as both cities (Vancouver and Hong Kong) are members of the APEC free trade agreement so we do anticipate a streamlined logistics and transportation route which will be inclusive of both our distilleries in Ireland and our vineyards in New Zealand.”
When asked about trends and further growth areas for the company Liang says: “We do foresee more of a penchant for lighter cocktails to be mixed with our more aromatic and flavoursome whiskeys and gins from Ireland as well as more people sipping on our wines, particularly our roses and sauvignon blancs in the summer sun, and we have a very special offering of hard seltzers for the younger generation that you may soon see at your next pool party.”
Other Luxury Interests
Though Paragon Liquors is focused on the drinks industry, Liang himself has a wider portfolio of interests, which includes acquisitions like Ciel Watch, a private-label, limited to- 500-pieces luxury Swiss timepiece, so named for its intended meaning in French as a homophone of Liang’s initials and is cast in his favourite shade of navy blue.
“We were fortunate enough to be able to collaborate with renowned Swiss movement-maker Ronda to create our own line of private-label Swiss watches that are all individually crafted, numbered and come with their own dossier and certificate,” says Liang. “We wanted to create a memento for our dear partners and loved ones – and this incredible opportunity arose.”
From decades of expertise as a curious collector to a best-in-class purveyor of luxury items, Liang is hard at work building an empire that’s about much more than the finer things in life. “Wealth is about being rich in content, taste and substance,” Liang says. “But it’s also about having your own beliefs with respect to what would bring about social good and benefit society as a whole.”