27 Questions: Bernice Liu, winemaker, actress and proprietor of Wine Maven
Our guest this week is a familiar name to both oenophiles and junkies of Hong Kong pop culture. We are of course referring to Ms. Bernice Liu: noted actress, vintner and (more recently) proprietor of Wine Maven, a community where enthusiasts “share, learn and create memories centring on wine and food.”
Whereas the general public will likely be familiar with Liu’s early appearances in Hong Kong film and television staples — including TVB’s Virtues of Harmony (2002) and the Shaw Brothers comedy Perfect Wedding (2003), as well as The Legend is Born: Ip Man (2010) — the actress has actually been working in the wine industry for over a decade.
Initially, she delved in the wine world as a travelling winemaker before graduating to operating her own estate in Bordeaux, Bellavizio. Under the guidance of consultant Eric Boissenot — notable for having worked on four of the five Premier Crus in the Médoc — Liu has managed to raise her wine’s critical profile far beyond the pale of your rank-and-file, celebrity-backed passion project. Notably, the 2010 vintage of her Bordeaux Rouge was awarded a Decanter bronze medal at the publication’s ‘Asia Wine Awards’ just two years later. Later on, the 2012 vintage of the Bordeaux Rouge would also go on to win a silver medal at the same awards in 2015.
Hong Kong is a place brimming with talented and intriguing people. In our weekly 27 Questions column, we get up close and personal with the city’s notable personalities, learning about their whims and aversions, pivotal life moments, and hopes and dreams — all in roughly the same amount of time it takes to sit through a two-minute speed date. This week, we speak with Bernice Liu.
Over a decade’s worth of experience in the trade eventually spurred Liu to establish Wine Maven, a new platform combining education, e-commerce and social engagement in one easy-to-access place. Here, shoppers can choose from a wealth of producers at a good number of price points including Louis Latour, Marchesi Antinori, Familia Torres, and of course, Liu’s own Bellavizio imprint.
Earlier this week, we sat down with Liu — over a cheeky glass of Semillon — to discuss life after the entertainment industry, broaching topics as varied as her average Sunday, pet peeves about living in the city and favourite fragrance over the last few years.
Bernice Liu joined the entertainment scene in Hong Kong after winning the Miss Chinese International pageant in 2001.
Name: Bernice Liu
Neighbourhood: ‘Home is where the heart is’
1. What is your life motto?
“Don’t let anyone tell you ‘you can’t.”
2. Who is your role model?
My dad. I alway go to him for insight, advice, somebody to bounce ideas off of, or even just listen to. He’s always been there for me.
3. What was your first job?
Helping out at my dad’s restaurant. I was nine years old and a bit of a math geek: I loved standing on the stool to work the cash register. It made me feel important that he trusted me to look after the front-of-house. (In actuality, being at the front meant he could keep an eye on me at all times, because standing at the back of the restaurant meant he could see everything [laughs].)
4. What is your drink of choice?
I mean… it’s obviously going to be wine!
5. What is the best thing in or about your apartment?
Liu founded Bellavizio in 2008, making wines in Napa Valley and Bordeaux.
6. Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Neither. At one point, I was working 37-hour days, so I’ve been trained like a machine. It drove the people around me crazy, because I don’t seem to sleep.
7. What do you hate most about living in Hong Kong?
Being so far from my family, as we’re all separated: my sister and her family moved to London; my brother and his family are in Beijing; and my parents have been in Vancouver since 2019.
8. What is the top destination on your bucket list?
Cappadocia (Turkey). Everyone I know who’s gone always brings the most amazing photographs back from the UNESCO World Heritage site.
9. What is your greatest fear?
Not sure if it’s the “greatest”, but I’m quite afraid of heights.
10. When did you last ride the Star Ferry? What were you doing/where were you going?
Shooting Margaret & David: Ex, the ViuTV drama. I was going back and forth across the harbour, shooting scenes with Anthony Wong.
11. What is your biggest guilty pleasure?
12. What is one movie everyone should see?
Pretty Woman — I love Julia Robert’s smile. I’ve watched the film so many times and it still never fails to get a giggle out of me.
13. What is your typical Sunday like?
During this period of social distancing, it’s been fairly relaxed. I wake up and play with my dogs (I have seven poodles) and then make breakfast. Do some emailing from the comfort of my massage chair, and then prep lunch. Then go to the couch and lounge a bit more with my dogs, scattered around me. Most of my Sundays follow a similar pattern if and when I’m not shooting.
Liu on an Italian sojourn, pictured here with acclaimed chef patron of Osteria Francescana, Massimo Bottura.
14. Which moment in your life would you most like to relive?
The day Macchiato, my first poodle, came home.
15. If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would it be?
Vancouver, British Columbia.
16. What makes someone a real Hongkonger?
Hmmm…am I considered a ‘real’ Hongkonger?
17. What’s your favourite childhood memory?
Cutting my sister’s hair and then proceeding to hide in the closet [laughs].
18. What’s your favourite scent in the whole world?
Guerlain’s Liu Eau de Parfum. I happened upon this particular fragrance back when it was only available at the brand’s Paris boutiques, packaged in a special ‘Bee Bottle’. I was enamoured immediately with the mythology behind it. The story goes that Jacques Guerlain created it in 1929, after having seen [the Giacomo Puccini] opera Turandot. When he was creating this scent, Guerlain was reportedly inspired by a woman “as beautiful as she was heroic.” It also helps that I picked this bottle up in the course of a trip which was extremely memorable.
Bernice Liu with her seven poodles.
19. Are you a good cook? What is your best dish?
I think I’m okay: my favourite thing to make is my grandmother’s Taishan-style sticky rice recipe.
20. What is your unique party trick?
Um… I can fold my tongue in the shape of a ripple?
21. Do you have any favourite tattoos or special birthmarks? What are they?
A mole on my upper lip. Funnily enough, I never had one there until I began investing in ventures to do with food and wine!
Liu in Bhutan.
22. How many pairs of shoes do you currently own? Which do you wear the most often?
Honestly, if you wanted me to quantify, I’d say a lot. But I wear my Gucci sneakers and loafers the most.
23. When was the last time you drove a car?
Over 10 years ago. I think the roads are safer with me off them, since I’m always on my phone and get easily distracted by the sheer number of ideas I have spinning around in my head 24/7.
24. How often do you prepare your own meals?
Oh, all the time actually. I love to cook.
Bernice Liu has been working in the wine industry for over a decade.
25. Where do you go when you want to be alone?
My secret hideaway. I’ll refrain from saying where exactly that is, but I can do anything there.
26. Who is the best teacher you’ve ever had? What is one important lesson that they taught you?
I’ve been blessed with many great teachers over the years who’ve taught me a lot in many different areas. But one who really stands out was my Marketing Professor Mike Leroy (from the University of British Columbia). It was him who actually encouraged me to “go for it” and give entrepreneurship in Hong Kong a try. That decision changed my life forever.
27. Would you rather never be alone for a moment, or be alone for the rest of your life?
I don’t ever feel that I’m alone — He’s always watching over me.