Legendary Australian winemaker visits Myanmar

Published in Mizzima Business Weekly on 28 November 2013

Bill Hardy
Bill Hardy

Bill Hardy, the fifth generation descendant of legendary Australian winemaker Thomas Hardy, expressed enthusiasm for Myanmar’s wine market during a visit to Yangon last week.

Speaking at Traders Hotel on November 13, Mr Hardy said that his forefather, who created the first Hardys wine back in 1853, would have been “bloody delighted” to see Hardys on the table at a gala dinner in Myanmar.

“It was his intention to create wines that would be prized all over the world – this would be a proud moment for him,” Mr Hardy told Mizzima Business Weekly.

From its modest 19th century beginnings on a start-up vineyard in Australia, Thomas Hardy and Sons went on to become the country’s largest winemaker. It remains the largest winemaker by volume in Australia and the United Kingdom and in 2011 the family-run company was sold and renamed “Accolade Wines”. Accolade Wines sells some of the world’s most famous wine labels in 80 different countries and its eponymous Hardys label was judged the world’s second strongest wine brand in 2008, according to The Adelaide Advertiser.

Mr Hardy was born in 1950 and joined the family business when he was in his early twenties. He later went on to study winemaking at the University of Bordeaux and came out dux of his year. After his return to South Australia – where Thomas Hardy first established the business, he served as president of the Australian Society of Viticulture and Oenology and Chairman of the McLaren Vale Winemaker’s Association.

Before retiring as a winemaker, the self-confessed red wine fan completed 26 vintages in Australia and France, and today serves as Hardys’ brand ambassador. Last year marked his 40th year of service to the company.

With such strong credentials, local winemakers and consumers in Myanmar will be pleased to learn that he “many heard great things” about Myanmar wines during his flying visit to the country, citing Red Mountain and Aythaya in particular.

Mr Hardy said that whilst Shiraz is by far the most popular wine in Australia (where wine comes a close second in popularity to beer, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics), “In Asia, the moscato wine has been introduced with great success.”

Moscato wines are made from muscat grapes, which are thought to be the oldest domesticated grapes in the world and range in colour from white to a near black.

“It’s a very fruity variety of wine, with strong grape aromas. It sounds funny when I mention the word ‘grape’ because we almost never use that word when discussing the aroma of wines. That’s ironic, considering every wine comes from grapes. The moscato wine isn’t exactly a sparkling wine, but it has a few bubbles to excite the pallet. It’s also quite low in alcohol – while most table wines have an alcohol content of 12 – 14%, moscato is usually 8%. It works well with desserts,” he said.

Accolade Wines Sales Manager Rachel Meisner, who is based in the regional Singapore office and manages sales across 10 countries, told Mizzima Business Weekly that no reliable statistics on wine culture exist for Myanmar.

“It’s certainly an area for improvement,” she said, adding that Malaysia, for a variety of reasons, also has a big gap when it comes to information about wine consumption.

However she said consumer research about wine is a relatively new concept across the world.

“In general, wine companies didn’t conduct the sort of market research campaigns a cosmetics company such as L’Oreal spends billions on. The traditional approach was that the winemaker used their superior knowledge to develop the best wines – that’s why the winemaker is so important historically. But as companies are becoming globailised and expanding to a bigger audience, they are beginning to make an effort to tailor their wines to local tastes, particularly at the entry level. That consumers’ opinions are becoming more valued is a big change in the global wine industry.”

Nevertheless, Ms Meisner said that the highest quality wines remain “the baby” of every individual winemaker.

“We would never ask consumers what would they would like in a HRB bottle [Hardys’ top end lines] because the winemaker is the only expert at that level.”

Ms Meisner explained that in a country such as Myanmar, where most people remain unfamiliar with wine, there is often a preference for less alcohol and more sugar.

“That’s why moscato is has been such a rocket success across Asia, because it’s sweet and fruity and contains almost no tannin. Very often people don’t know what they’re reacting to in a wine, but it usually turns out to be the high alcohol content that they dislike.”

However whether this reasoning would apply to Myanmar – a nation of whisky lovers – remains to be seen.

Whilst it might seem logical to assume that white wines are more popular in tropical climates than a heart-warming, room temperature glass of red, Ms Meisner said the opposite is true.

“In countries with a long history of wine consumption [commonly the “Old World Wine” nations of Europe] a white wine is chilled in the fridge to make it more enjoyable. However in terms of wine consumption in Asia, it often begins with the middle classes. The reasons why someone believes they will enjoy wine usually aren’t related to what will go well with a meal. It’s about being perceived as sophisticated, having European tastes and embracing European products. In Asia, 85% of Accolades’ wine sales are red wines.”

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