Monday, March 2, 2015

Hardy's Wines at Vancouver International Wine Festival





Photo: Bill Hardy, brand ambassador for Thomas Hardy & Sons

On its website, the Australian wine producer Thomas Hardy & Sons says that it is rated as “Most Powerful Australian Wine Brand” globally.

That speaks volumes for the ability of the Hardy’s brand to rise about the various crises the winery has come through since the founder, Thomas Hardy, planted grapes in 1854. That includes an entanglement with the conglomerate madness that swept through the Australian wine industry a decade ago.

Bruce Tyrrell, the proprietor of  Tyrrell’s Wines, another leading Australian producer, gives some of the credit to Bill Hardy, a veteran with 42 years in the business. He is now the brand ambassador for Hardy’s.

Both were among the Australian producers at this year’s Vancouver International Wine Festival. Bruce told me that Bill Hardy, besides being one of the nicest individuals in the Australian industry, logs countless miles each year, selling the Hardy’s brand to the wine trade and to consumers.

Bill is the fifth generation Hardy behind the family brand. And there is a sixth generation emerging.

The original Thomas Hardy was 20 when he emigrated from Britain in 1850. He tried to make his fortune as a gold miner and, when that did not work out, he became a butcher. He was so successful that, a few years later, he bought 46 acres for his first vineyard. He has sometimes been called the father of winegrowing in South Australia.

“He made his first wine in 1857 and exported two hogsheads to England in 1859, one of the first exports of wine from South Australia,” according to the Hardy’s entry on Wikipedia. “By 1863 his vineyards covered 35 acres (14 ha) of Grenache, Mataro, Muscat, Roussillon, Shiraz and Zante grapes. He also purchased grapes from other vignerons in the Adelaide area. By 1879 his vintage had reached 27,000 gallons (100,000 litres).”

(Zante is a seedless grapes often transformed into currants.)

Hardy continued making wine until 1890, turning the job over to a nephew so that he could concentrate on the business of what had become one of Australia’s leading wineries. The company was sound enough to survive the destruction of its original winery by fire in 1904.

His son, Robert, took over running the company in 1910, two years before Thomas Hardy died at the age of 82.

A nephew, Thomas Mayfield Hardy, took over the wine company in 1928, only to become part of one of the greatest tragedies in the Australian wine history. He died in an aircraft crash in 1938 that also took the lives of two other leading Australian winery owners - Hugo Gramp of Orlando and Sydney Hill Smith of Yalumba wineries.

His widow, Eileen Hardy, became legendary as the matriarch of the family, raising three Hardy sons. The winery honours her by labelling some of its best wines with the Eileen Hardy label.

One of those sons was Sir James Hardy, who took over in 1980 when an older brother, Thomas Walter Hardy, died of cancer. While he served as chair of the company, he was perhaps better known as a great yachtsman and an America’s Cup contender.

The winery’s expanded in both domestic and overseas market from the 1970s through the 1990s.

That success attracted the attention of Constellation Brands, the American company that now is the world’s largest wine company. In 2001, Constellation took over Hardy’s for A$1.85 billion.

Apart from the astronomical price, there was logic behind the deal. Hardy’s had very strong distribution in Britain while Constellation’s brands were weak there. Because the reverse was true in the United States, the synergy of the merger seemed obvious.

“We kept our end of the bargain,” Bill Hardy says. Constellation got better penetration in Britain but the Hardy’s brands did not get the lift they expected in the United States.

Constellation’s timing was terrible. It had waded into the Australian wine industry that, as a result of vineyard expansions, was swamping the world with wine, a lot of it called YellowTail®. By 2011 Constellation gave up trying to make money with Australian wine.

It sold 80% of Hardy’s for A$290 million to a private equity company in Australia. The current owner of Hardy is called Accolade Wines, a focussed Australian company that has put together a portfolio of premium brands. The legendary Grant Burge winery has also been acquired by Accolade and Grant Burge himself is now a brand ambassador as well.

Remarkably, the integrity of the Hardy’s brand has not suffered. “There is one of the things that our owners have never fiddled around with,” Bill says. “They have never dictated to production.”

The apparent strength of the Hardy’s brand likely is due to the good value its wines offer. The brand is well represented in British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch. The listings include three $10 wines in the Hardy’s Varietal Range; four in the Hardy’s Stamp Series Range priced from $11 to $13 a bottle and $20 for a 1.5 litre Riesling Gewürztraminer; as well as a Nottage Hill Chardonnay at $12 and Nottage Hill Shiraz at $14.

At the wine festival, Bill Hardy was pouring some of Hardy’s premium wines, including two recent releases that bear his name. He is clearly proud of that honour. One member of each generation of the family has a wine named for a leading individual. Hopefully, some of these wines will also make it into the British Columbia market.

William Hardy Chardonnay 2013 ($16). This wine leans toward Chablis in style. It is crisp and refreshing with notes of citrus and apple. 90.

Eileen Hardy Chardonnay 2010 (N/A). This is an exceptional Chardonnay made with grapes from two cool climate vineyards – one in Tasmania and one in the Yarra Valley. Burgundian in style, this barrel-fermented wine has toasty notes in the nose and flavours of tangerine over subtle new oak. In Australia, where the Eileen Hardy Chardonnay wines have a long list of gold medals and best of show awards, this sell for about $65. 93.

William Hardy Barossa Shiraz 2012 ($16). This is a big juicy wine with aromas of black cherry and mulberry that are echoed on the generous palate. 90.

Hardy’s Tintara McLaren Vale Shiraz 2012 ($30). This wine is named for the McLaren Vale winery that Thomas Hardy bought in 1876. The wine is rich in texture, with vanilla and black cherry aromas. On the palate, there are flavours of black cherry, dark chocolate and coffee. There is a long and satisfying finish. 92.

Hardy’s HRB/D636 Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ($35). HRB stands for Heritage Reserve Bin. This wine is 90% Coonawarra grapes and 10% Margaret River grapes. It is a full-bodied but elegant Cabernet Sauvignon with black currant aromas and flavours of black currant with a hint of tobacco and cedar. 91.




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