Boon for Local Wine Producers as Imports Dry Up

wine.jpgBy William J. Furney
Managing Editor
The Bali Times
With staff reporters

SEMINYAK ~ Bali’s wine producers are experiencing booming sales, with increases running as high as 50 percent, as the island’s imported wines dry up due to a government quota gaffe and hoteliers and restaurateurs turn to local bottles to keep their well-heeled guests’ well-oiled during this peak season, local firms told The Bali Times this week.

Restaurateurs began complaining last month that local distributors’ supplies of imported wines and liquor had started to dry up, the result of a government freeze owing to an apparent bungle over import quotas for the second half of this year.

The central government’s Indonesian Trading Company, responsible for overseeing supplies of wines and spirits to the hospitality sector, refused to be drawn this week, however, on media reports that the authorities had clamped down on imports due to smuggling operations that were costing the government lost customs duty.

For a café owner in Ubud, the shortage of wines is proving a headache.

“Now Ubud is full of tourists and they don’t understand what’s going on. I don’t know how much money Indonesia uses to get foreign tourists to this country. Well, now they’re here, but I have to spend time to explain the situation as well as I can,” Gunnar Fridthjofsson, an Icelander who runs Deli Cat, told The Bali Times.

“The expats know [about the wine shortage] already; they just smile and say, ‘This is Indonesia.’”

“For me it’s not that simple, with 10 employees and guests to take care of,” he said.

Midweek, at the newly opened French hypermarket Carrefour on Sunset Road in Kuta, normally groaning wine shelves were all but bare, with a few dozens solitary bottles of French, Australian and Chilean wines all that remained.

wine-ii.jpgOne of Bali’s leading wine producers, Hatten Wines, is reaping a windfall from the dearth of imports, according to stock controller Gus Dek.

“Usually we sell 1,000 bottles per day. But since July, when imported wines were beginning to be hard to find, we’ve been selling 3,000 bottles per day,” he told The Times.

The company had increased production to meet the soaring demand and was currently experiencing a grape-supply shortage at its winery in Sanur, he said.

Another Bali winery, Wine of the Gods, is also seeking a marked rise in orders.

“The situation is advantageous for us. The difficulty of getting imported wines has led more people to buy our wines. We figure there’s been a 25- to 50-percent increase in our sales,” marketing manager Ramli Yale told The Times.

Although sales were increasing, prices remained the same, he said.

“We don’t have any plans to raise the prices, because for us, production costs remain stable,” he said, adding that Wine of the Gods imports its grapes from Australia.

Yale cautioned, however, that should the wine-import problem be prolonged, it could negatively affect Bali’s key tourism industry.

“We fear for the tourism business in Bali should this situation go on for a long time.”

At the elegant Lamak Restaurant & Bar in Ubud, the drinks list may be shorter these days but wine is still on the menu.

“Wine is rare everywhere in Ubud nowadays, but we still have good wines and spirits, only in smaller amounts,” assistant manager Fande told The Times.

She said there was little interest among foreign vacationers for local wines, even though the establishment provided them.

“Most of our customers are Europeans and they don’t like local wines. But we do have Hatten wine in the restaurant to accompany the Indonesian dishes,” she said.

Another local wine producer, Indico Wines, is not seeing a comparative upswing in business, however.

It sells 1,000 bottles a fortnight and the company is currently in the process of improving the quality of its wines, marketing manager Ida Bagus Mona told The Times.

“Right now we’re still testing the products to improve quality, so this situation doesn’t really affect our sales,” he said.

So what about the all-important taste test? Can local wines hold their own against their foreign counterparts?

Some can, restaurateurs said, while others had a long way to go and are overly acidic.

Pricewise, locally produced wines beat the competition hands-down, though, with almost all selling for less than US$10 a bottle while imports, which are subject to customs duties, cost at least double or triple that.

Meanwhile, Anom Masda, chairman of the Bali Liquor Association, said his members were perplexed about why the Indonesian Trading Company had caused the apparent import blunder.

“We know that the Indonesian Trading Company, as the only authorized importer in Indonesia, hasn’t made any imports for the second half of this year, which resulted in a zero addition to supplies, but we don’t know why,” he told The Times.

Repeated phone calls by Bali Times reporters the Indonesian Trading Company failed to elicit any clarification of the situation.

However, an official there told the Agence France-Presse news agency earlier in the week that a decision on the quota was expected from the Trade Ministry.

The quota “usually should have already been released, but we are still awaiting word from the Trade Ministry, which acts as the regulator,” said the official, named as Donny.

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