By Jim Boyce
Dean Hewiston of the eponymous South Australian winery was in town last week and I had a chance to ask him five questions. This visit wasn’t quite exciting as one a few years ago that coincided with the Australian Football League final and saw Hewitson kicking a ball in the streets of Beijing but the wine was just as good.
Boyce: How big of a market is China for you?
Hewitson: It’s growing. I think there are a lot of wineries like me –we are here but how do we break through a little more?
What has changed in China since your first trip?
My first trip was in 2005. I have always found this burning desire [for wine] but without the knowledge. Now there is the knowledge. I remember [in the early days] this fervor of enthusiasm to soak it up. What strikes me is that in Australia males dominate the wine press but here it is women embracing wine and wine knowledge. Women want to know all about it.
Recent Customs stats say Australia has a decreasing share of China’s market by volume but increasing value per bottle. What’s your experience?
It’s an important strategy as a nation. We have a strong dollar now, higher wages, and we can’t really compete on the bottom end with countries with lower wages. It’s expensive in Australia. It’s a conscious decision by companies. As we talk about heritage in the vineyards, we need to match that with quality. We should not undersell ourselves.
Wine maker Zhang Jing from Helan Qing Xue in Ningxia will be visiting Hewitson. What will she be doing?
She’ll be with us for two weeks to help with the harvest. She’ll do some pumping over but we also want to get her out in the vineyards to taste the grapes to see when they are flavor ripe as opposed to sugar ripe or tannin ripe. We want to show her some of the younger vineyards, some that we do with whole fruit. We can stomp some of those [grapes] with our feet and get the camera out. [Note: Zhang is at Hewitson now.]
[We tried the Old Garden Mourvedre, from vines more than a century old, and Baby Bush Mourvedre, originating from stems taken from the old vines. On those wines…]
Where you make great wine is with grapes that ripen latest, just before the season closes out. We find that with Mourvedre. We think we’ll see it more widely planted. We’ve driven that grape and control about 20 percent of it in the Barosssa.