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Why Aussie wines are rising from down under

Group Chief Winemaker of Hardys, Paul Lapsley, enjoying his wines at EVOO in Cambridge, Mass. Photo by Charlene Peters

It is estimated that 200 glasses of Australia’s most prominent wine, Hardys, are consumed each day around the world. Hardys is also the most recognized Australian wine in the world, yet, in the U.S., this brand of wine has been all but non-existent — until now.

Expect to be smitten by Australian chardonnays and pinot noirs in particular.


A family account

The history of Hardys began 160 years ago, when Thomas Hardy arrived down under from an English farming family in the countryside near Devon. Upon his arrival in Australia, he became involved with cattle and the “butchery business,” feeding hungry miners in the gold fields of Victoria. Just over a year later, his profits were utilized to purchase land South of Adelaide on the banks of the River Torrens, an area later known as “Bankside” and the origins of Hardys winery and wines.

Thomas’ sons were involved in the business, prompting the name change to Thomas Hardy & Son in 1887. Only one son, Robert, became a winemaker. Hardy’s cousin, Thomas Hardy Nottage became involved in 1884, helping to build the success of Hardys wines, managing McLaren Vale Vineyards of which the Nottage Hill tier of wines is named in his honor.

Today, the family’s involvement continues with William (Bill) Hardy, who has worked as winemaker and ambassador for the Hardy family’s famous brand for the past 40 years and counting.


Ready for the U.S.

With the cultivation of vineyards throughout the west, north and south, in Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania, the maturing of 2012 vines and the complexity gained in blending grapes from these various areas gives Australian wines the cutting edge, ready for resurfacing in the U.S.

“My position as chief winemaker, as is the Hardys’ tradition, has always been taking fruit from whole regions and making blends and/or single regional wines or blends from regions to get the consistency of star quality,” says Paul Lapsley, who has 27 winemakers working under him.

Lapsley has recently toured throughout the U.S. to represent Accolade Wine Group, which bought the Hardys brand from Constellation in 2011. This group includes Hardys Nottage Hill and Tintara McLaren Vale brands as well as Hardys.

“When Constellation bought us,” says Lapsley, “the industry was at its peak.”

Before a tsunami of events occurred in 2007, such as a weak world economy, a rising Australian dollar and oversupply of a particular mainstream Australian wine, as a whole, the Australian wine industry suffered. Wine and spirits maker, Constellation Brands stepped in and paid a price of 1.2 billion dollars for Hardys, selling 80 percent of the company for 290 million dollars, losing one billion and writing off 700 million in assets.

After dipping out of the American market for a while, he says, “We struggle every day with building the reputation of Australian wines.”

Hardys was bought by a private equity company who knew how to run a business, beginning with reducing the 750 labels down to a much more manageable 200. The company was renamed Accolade Wines, with Hardys as the main wine brand.

What makes Hardys successful is its ability to garner grapes from its seven wineries all over Australia, Tasmania being the “lovely jewel, the mini crown, so to speak,” says Lapsley.

Given its unique position in Australia’s winemaking history, its considerable vineyard/winery holdings across Australia’s most prized winegrowing regions, and the worldwide recognition for Hardys as one of Australia’s most storied wine brands makes Hardys well poised for the current resurgence of Aussie wines in the U.S.

By recognition and volume alone, Lapsley says, “We’re about to get back on track with America.”


Tasting notes

With this comment, he shares a rare release 2008 Hardys Shiraz – named the 160 year anniversary bottle, selling for $200 a bottle. This shiraz is all about hand harvested grapes that hail from McLaren Vale, Clare Valley and Frankland River ancient vines aging 50 to 100-plus years, and the wine can be cellared for 15 to 20 years. It’s a dense red, opulent wine, full-bodied with flavors of dark chocolate, licorice, blackberry and dark plum. Its French oak barrel aging gives it an overlay of mocha and vanilla.

“We’re not saying our shiraz is a Rhone style,” says Lapsley, “but we say it has finesse.”

It’s a really exciting time for Australian wines.

Part of the Commonwealth of Australia, Tasmania, located south of the continent, is one of the reasons Australian wines are making resurgence in the U.S. According to Lapsley, chardonnay and pinot noir are the hottest wines on the market today, thanks to a move to Tasmania vineyards 20 years earlier.

“That made the difference in quality,” says Lapsley. “And in sparkling wine as well.”

Humbled by Australian wines of the past, Hardys chardonnay is the stepping stone to a more complex chardonnay grape grown on vineyards in Western Australia. It offers more of a melon flavor, heading toward citrus and tropical. At the end of the day, it’s a $13 bottle of wine simply taken out of the fridge and enjoyed.

As for the medium bodied 2012 Nottage Hill Pinot Noir ($SRP $13) with soft tannins and a flinty background, Lapsley explains the process: “We don’t try to overdo it. We treat these grapes in the Burgundian manner, naturally fermenting with techniques on lees. It’s not a wine that needs a lot of oak.”

Fortunately, wine is no longer about high alcohol. You won’t see a bottle of Hardys wine with 15 percent alcohol or more.

“We as winemakers never liked that style,” says Lapsley. “If you look at our wine style over the years, it’s about elegance and finesse.”

Ten million cases a year are exported to the U.K., where Hardys has been exporting for nearly 130 years. The U.S. is next on the radar, especially due to the fact that the states are now the biggest wine market in the world. The Hardys brand is one to watch as it makes its way to the U.S. You can rest assured this Australian wine is on the savory edge, representing the newest styles of winemaking with grapes grown in a cooler climate, ultimately attributing to great structure and a rise in the U.S. from down under.

Not to be taken too seriously, Lapsley quips, “At the end of the day, it’s just fermented grape juice.”


Hardys wines currently sold in the U.S. include:

–          Nottage Hill wines ($13 SRP)

–          William Hardy range ($17 SRP)

–          Tintara McLaren Vale wines ($19 SRP)

–          The Hardys Winemaker’s Rare Release Shiraz 2008 ($200 SRP) is also available in very limited quantities

Visit www.HardysWines.com for more information.