Some watches tell time. Some tell a story.

Derrick Tan’s love for wines stems from the stories each bottle holds, telling the tale of the people who make them as well as the year that formed them.

Frequenters of Soleil Restaurant in Damansara City Mall will be familiar with the floor-to-ceiling glass wine cellar tucked to one side of the restaurant. It hums a low reverberating tone as it chills within it up to 6,000 bottles at full capacity, made up of over 300 premium carefully selected labels.

This is owner Derrick Tan’s pride and joy, the heart around which the basis of Soleil Restaurant itself was first conceived. Put together under SW Wine Depot, the wines are each hand-selected by Derrick under his philosophy of bringing in good value for money wines that customers can buy in bulk and with a good cellaring value.

“The cellar here is only part of it,” tells Derrick, who also sits as the chairman of the Sungai Wang Group. “This is where we display.”

The majority of his stock is kept in a bonder’s warehouse at the Port Klang Free Zone, retrieved only after the bottles at Soleil are sold off – which happens fast.

“We don’t do a distinction between Soleil and SW Wine,” Derrick adds. “The whole area is Soleil but the wines are curated, chosen and imported by SW Wine.”

The blurring of lines is for good reason. Here is where Derrick has materialised his vision for a place where appreciators from beginners to the advanced can come together, open a bottle of wine, learn, discover and connect over a simple glass of vino.

Derrick wears shirt by Dior and sports the Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Skelet-One Red Gold watch

Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Skelet-One Red Gold watch

(Swipe left for watch details)

From importer to retailer

It all started, like with all great collections, from Derrick’s own love for wine.

“I had this partner of mine then from whom I bought a lot of wines. He came to me one day and told me if I am able to get this license to import, it might be good business,” Derrick recalls fondly. “We were already buying and paying someone else so much money for our wine, why don’t we get something ourselves.

The best part is if it doesn’t work out, we’ll just consume the wine ourselves. That’s not a bad proposition.”

They applied for the importer’s license in 2012, received it in 2013 and started SW Wine Depot in 2014. Back then, SW Wine sold wine only strictly by the case, Mondays to Fridays and by appointment only on Saturdays.

A rise in request from customers to retrieve their stocks on the weekends as well as a chance meeting with Chef Evert Onderbeke who was keen to open a restaurant in partnership with Derrick birthed Soleil. When Soleil moved from its old location in Section 17 to its current abode in Damansara City Mall, it was the perfect opportunity to unite the restaurant and wine retailer – two of Derrick’s most frequented places – in one place.

“The plus side to the restarant here is that we have a sommelier and we’re open seven days a week lunch to dinner,” Derrick reasons. “We so converged everything from marketing to operations all through the restaurants. It’s a chance for people to try the food when they come and buy the wine.”

Derrick sports the Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Moon Ivory Enamel watch

Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Moon Black Enamel watch

(Swipe left for watch details)

Of stories told and lessons learned

So was set Derrick’s perfect spot to sit back, relax and sip on a glass of wine. It is a backdrop as storied and rich as the wines he loves.

“I enjoy wines not just because of the fact that I love drinking them,” Derrick shares. “With a lot of the wines that I get into, I like to explore the history of how the chateau and the story behind the wine production, if there’s any. That really gives you a different perspective on how the wine came about.”

He names two particular chateaus as example, Pichon Baron and Pichon Lalande located in the Pauillac appellation of the Bordeaux region of France.

“The name alone tells you that one is masculine and the other is more feminine,” Derrick explains. “It all started from one family but they split.”

For three generations, the male heir to the business would come to pass at an early age, leaving the matriarch to take over. The sons, while alive, produced under Pichon Baron for wines that were bold and intense. Interestingly, when the women took over and started producing under Pichon Lalande, the wines took on a softer, more elegant and graceful note.

“Baron is more in your face. Lalande is shy, like a lady, and emerges slowly. This is one example of stories behind the wine,” Derrick tells.

These stories have also planted in Derrick a new respect for wines and their makers.

“Every bottle also tells the story of the maker,” he reminds us. “Once you’re there and you’re standing right smack in the vineyard with the winemaker telling you why they did a late or early harvesting, you’ll realise winemaking is like you’re punting with god. You’re playing with the weather.”

Derrick wears Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Skelet-One Red Gold watch

Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Skelet-One Red Gold

(Swipe left for watch details)

What he has also learnt is that there is no such thing as a bad wine, merely one that’s not suited to your taste. He had a first hand experience on the matter during one of this vineyard visits.

The more prestigious maison had dozens of help picking, filtering and segregating grapes on the conveyor belt. The more independent ones had but one or two staff doing the same task.

“The one thing we learnt is that it doesn’t matter the wine is good or not, the efforts put in there were equally hard. It’s so easy for us to open a bottle and exclaim that it’s not good, let’s get a better bottle,” he reflects. “Nowadays I don’t do that anymore because I am reminded that that bottle which I don’t enjoy, but someone else probably will or might, is still made with effort by people who poured their heart into it.”

Derrick wears the Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Dual Time Black Enamel watch

Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Dual Time Black Enamel

(Swipe left for watch details)

Stopping time, preserving moments

Three years into the joint of restaurant and retailer and Derrick has his own little spot where he visits for all occasions from family celebrations to business appointments.

“There’s always a common factor to talk about here,” he observes with pride of Soleil. “I can run into someone I know or make a new acquaintance; our topic of conversation need not even be about wines.”

It’s easy to see why Soleil has become so popular among wine appreciators. Its wines are sold at easily 40% below the prices of other restaurants and bars, offers a much more diverse selection and comes with a stylish setting complete with the full service of restaurant to boot.

Derrick is in suit by Dior and wears the Jaquet Droz  Grande Seconde Skelet-One Red Gold watch

Many of Derrick’s closest and most cherished connections have been made here, through stories and by stories of the wines.

“The connection happens when you start seeing them develop that common alignment of appreciation for that glass of wine on the table,” he tells. “ Most of our customers who come here are very different wine drinkers. It’s a nice discerning place here where people come, respect and appreciate the wines that we put on the table. That’s nice to have.”

Personally, it’s a refuge for Derrick to escape the humdrum of the daily as well.

Frequenters of Soleil Restaurant in Damansara City Mall will be familiar with the floor-to-ceiling glass wine cellar tucked to one side of the restaurant. They might also be familiar with a quiet spectacled man seated often on the outside terrace facing the bar, sipping on a glass of red.

“In that moment when you have a nice glass of wine, it’s the calming factor that speaks most to me,” Derrick says. “A good glass of wine in the midst of a stressful day, with a good finish and nice tannin, for that few seconds, makes you forget about everything else. It’s almost as if time stands still.”

Derrick Tan wears the Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Moon Ivory Enamel watch

Jaquet Droz Grande Seconde Moon Ivory Enamel

(Swipe left for watch details)

Learn more about Jaquet Droz watches at the official website here.

Photography: Jena Yek of Shepherd Pictures
Videography: Felix Khu
Art direction and styling: Anson Siau
Hair and grooming: Jacquelyn Tan