The first time I met Bec Hardy (daughter of Geoff) I knew it was going to be difficult not to like her... Bec has a gentle strength about her; a calm determination that could seem aggressive if it weren't for the brilliantly warm smile that seems a permanent part of her demeanor.
Bec and I met as she and her new husband were taking a week's honeymoon to do business with with Opimian society (www.opim.ca). Bec was making a whirlwind tour of Canada, with 5 stops in 5 different cities in 7 days (much like a rock-star?). I was fortunate enough to share about an hour with her at the prestigious Teahouse restaurant in Stanley Park, Vancouver (www.VancouverDine.ca), her last stop before returning home to K1 vineyards in South Australia.
Bec and I took the opportunity to discuss K1 vineyards' approach to several topics including how and why they choose their varietals, the development of the Asian wine market and the challenges of competitive pricing in a depressed global economy.
Geoff Hardy began K1 vineyards (www.K1.com.au) in the hills above Adelaide in 1987 with 30 acres of what was then considered by some to be "unsuitable land" for viticulture. Geoff was not to be swayed however and though it was untested land, Geoff had been active in the field since earning his diploma in Wine Production in 1977 and knew to trust his instincts. Geoff was certain that this (relatively) high altitude area would give a "cool-climate feel" to his wines.
Geoff planted Chardonnay, Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc, for the white varietals and Pinot Noir, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Temperanillo and Tannat for the reds in the early 1990's. An impressive array of varietals for a winery that produces 8,000 cases per year. Geoff was ambitious however, and though he splits his time between consulting for wineries throughout the world and maintaining his role as General Manager, by the year 2005, Geoff had managed to introduce Viognier, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Gruner-Vetliner and Arnais.
Gruner-Vetliner or GruVe is a subject of some passion for Bec Hardy as she talks about the work that her family is doing. GruVe really is a newcomer to the Australian market, with the very first planting happening in 2004 and the Hardy family coming in second in 2005. Native to Austria, where over 30% of all plantings are Gruner, this varietal produces crisp white wines with vibrant acidity and (when made well) a rich and nuanced light floral bouquet. Bec and I agreed that no one in the wine industry would have taken the notion seriously even ten years ago: that someone would plant Austria's most prized varietal in Australia? And that it would turn out so well? And that Australians would go absolutely wacko for it, drinking it faster then anyone can produce it?
Well everyone is taking it seriously now.
And what about Pinot Noir, the heart-break grape? Once again, Australia wasn't renown for the finesse of this wine but Geoff Hardy used his accumulated 5 generations of winemaking skill to plant at over 300m, where the cooling breezes from the Gulf of Saint-Vincent moderate daytime temperatures. Bec says that her father is partial to the Pommard varietal which produces a lighter, more elegant style of wine and is best enjoyed at least a year after bottling (but Bec prefers it after 3 to 4 years). True enough, whilst this Pinot can't be compared to the wines of Beaune, Geoff is releasing product that is impressive in it's texture and balance and is a stunning value for the price.
And what of the emerging wine market that no one believed in 10 or 15 years ago? Asia is insatiable in it's desire for wines of quality these days. Gone are the days when the only thing that sold was Icewine - now winemakers from around the world are sending their best in everything they do. It's important to remember that Asia is still an emerging market however, and are easily swayed by big names...
Luckily for the Hardy family, they have that legacy. K1 vineyards sells approximately 20% of it's yearly inventory to Canada and all of it through the Opimian society. "Why?" I asked Bec, "Why would you choose to sell to the other side of the world?"
I think it's because the Hardy's have a fondness for the Canadian market. Because we "get" them. We understand the Hardy's dogged determination to pull something beautiful from the dusty soil... most of us are first or second-generation Canadians and know what it's like to start something from scratch - with grand ambitions and high hopes. It's a struggle. For any farmer anywhere in the world, it's a daily struggle and Canadians are linked closely with the land. We know what the Hardy's must go through to bring such understated elegance to the bottle and for such reasonable pricepoints.
And isn't it nice to be able to say that? In this day and age, when some winemakers charge exorbitant fees for wines that are hardly worth the price of admission - that a winemaking family now in it's 6th generation is willing to do the math necessary to charge a price based on the costs of production. I love a good Bordeaux vintage as much (or more) then the next man, but when wines reach $1000/bottle I find it hard to believe that the price is based on anything other then greed (and supply vs demand). It's much easier, I imagine, to simply calculate the cost of making a wine one year - and then charge what the market will bear based on that original cost... it's certainly easier, but it means alot to me that K1 is willing to do the math every year.
And what it means is that every year I will be going back to K1 releases with excitement and anticipation; whether it be to try a "cool-climate" Australian Chardonnay (a brilliant innovation that is bringing life back to Australian Chardonnay sales), or a classic Cab-Shiraz blend from their McLaren Vale property - the Hardy family is proving that in the world of winemaking, family businesses are worth supporting.
As always, I look forward to your questions and comments.
CINCIN~!!! SLAINTE~!!! CHEERS~!!!