Challenging the Tropical Climate and Singing in The Rain
How did you get started in the wine business?
Hatten Wines is a family business. We started making rice wine, Brem, around the 1960s and then we decided to create Hatten Wines in 1994.
Since 1990, the government has prohibited the opening of new alcohol- producing business. Considering Hatten established in 1994, how did you get around the ban?
We already had an alcohol licence for the rice wine factory before 1990, so we bought an existing company in Surabaya and we relocated it with that licence in Bali.
What type of grapes do you use?
We use three types of table grapes that are the only ones available here in Bali. Alphonse-Lavalle is a black grape that we use to make Rosé, Aga Red and the Pinot Red.
We also have the Belgia, a grape that comes from the Muscat family and we use it to make Aga White, Alexandria and Pinot White. And we also use a very rare grape called Propolingo Biru for sparkling wine. People believe it’s from overseas originally but they have grown it in Bali for many years. Although it’s not a good table grape, it’s perfect to make our sparkling wine.
Who is your winemaker?
Don Buchanan, an Australian national who has a great experience running successful wineries in Australia and abroad. (Buchanan is managing director of Hatten Wines.)
What are the ideal conditions for grape growing?
In general, dry conditions and porous soil. And of course the sun; without it you can’t grow anything. Many people believe wine can’t be grown in the tropics. What are some of the challenges you encountered growing grapes so close to the Equator?
The biggest challenge was the rain. Rain can change the consistency in the colour of the wine. If the grapes get too much rain it can draw the colour out and of course the taste is also affected.
What about the benefits?
If you compare Bali to other places that have four seasons, it’s really unique here. The grapes grow so quickly that we can harvest every 120 days. That’s the reason why you don’t see a vintage year on the wines. In Australia and other wine-producing countries, they have a cold season, but here we have continuous harvesting.
Indonesian people might not be as fanatic about wine as some Europeans or Australians. What sort of wine do Indonesians prefer?
Most Indonesians who drink wine have lived abroad and have been in contact with people from western countries who drink wine. So there’s not such a big difference, although it’s true that younger drinkers prefer wine that is a bit fruitier.
What’s your best advice for the new wine drinker when purchasing wine?
It’s good to buy what you enjoy drinking, but it’s better for young people to buy entry-level wines. Wines that are a bit sweeter and fruiter are the best option. While old-world wines have a longer vintage and they’re heavier, our wines are really easy to drink; they’re not so strong.
How has the wine industry in Bali evolved since you started?
The government has restricted the wine industry, but I think now there are more people interested in getting involved in the business. In the 80’s the only wine that was available in Indonesia was Mateus Rosé. Now on the menus you can find a great variety of wines. So the wine industry has definitely grown.
How would you best describe Hatten wines?
They are easy-drinking wines that suit the tropics and are great to drink with local food. A lot of the red wines are too heavy to drink here and we’re making ours lighter so they adapt to our climate. We also want to keep them affordable so they are not only enjoyed by the tourists but by the local market as well.
Which is your favourite wine in the Hatten range?
My favourite is Tunjung, the sparkling wine. It’s produced with a traditional champagne method.
What’s a great food combination for this wine?
It’s great with canapés, seafood or chicken sauté and also excellent to start off a meal.
What’s your target group?
Our main target is tourists
Considering the taxes on imported wines, hence their high cost, how do you benefit from selling domestic wine?
Our prices are more affordable. But we import the bottles, corks and labels, so we still have to pay the luxury goods tax, which is quite high. But it costs less than importing wine, so we can compete with the price.
Are you considering exporting your wine?
We used to export our wine after the 2002 Bali bombings, to the Netherlands and Singapore. We did it for a year in 2003, but as soon as the tourists came back to Bali, we decided to focus here in Indonesia. We want first to be an iconic brand in this country and then take it abroad again.
Hatten has managed to establish a small but successful wine trade in Bali, and even gained some international recognition. What have been the contributing factors for its success?
We are 100 percent Balinese and, for that, unique.
Are you moving to all screw-top bottles for your wine range?
We will move into all screw caps, but, because we’re big in recycling, we’re still recycling the bottles and corks. Our winemaker believes maybe two years down the line all our wines will have screw caps.
How are you planning to fix the production/supply problem – so often people who are regular buyers of Hatten wines cannot find their preferred style in stock?
We’ve invested a lot in new equipment and we’re opening a new warehouse in 2010. Our newer and faster equipment will allow more production and we’ll be able to store more wine in the warehouse.
What proportion of your retail sales is now cask as opposed to bottled wine?
I don’t want to give all our business secrets away!
Australia and New Zealand have moved away from cask because it’s seen as a cheap part of the market. But in Bali they like it. Especially in the hotels and restaurants that sell by the glass. For them it’s cheaper to buy casks as we’re only charging them for 1.5 litres and they get 2 litre casks. So there’s a strong percentage of the market that goes that way.
But cask and bottled wine have the same quality.
Can Hatten produce enough wine locally to meet current market demand?
Yes, we can.
Hatten products already sell well in domestic markets. What are your plans in regard to growing this side of your business?
We have a lot of plans, but right now we’re concentrating on ensuring the quality of our product is really consistent. Even though we’re producing wines that are affordable, we also want to have the best product.
Can you give any advice to people thinking about getting into the wine industry?
Indonesia is primarily a Muslim country and the government has constraints on the production as well as importation of alcoholic drinks.
So because the government doesn’t help this industry, the main thing people should do is check the legalities. Never trust someone who promises an alcohol licence, because it’s not that simple.
In your opinion, what’s the future of the tropical wine industry?
It will grow. In Thailand they’re very serious about it and it’s also very successful in Vietnam and India. So it will expand.