The BRL Hardy Company was formed in August 1992, following the merger of two of Australia's leading wine producers, Thomas Hardy & Sons Pty Ltd and Berri Renmano Ltd. BRL Hardy is the second largest Australian wine company. It is a new company committed to the future of the Australian Wine Industry and it remains loyal to the traditions of excellence and quality from its forebears.
The BRL Hardy portfolio includes many leading brands, including; Hardys, Renmano, Berri Estates, Houghton, Chateau Reynella, Leasingham, Moondah Brook and Stanley. BRL Hardy also distributes for Barossa Valley Estates, Redman Wines of Coonawarra, the Chilean Calterra wines and the Spanish Freixenet sparkling. The company is investing heavily overseas to establish a name as an exporter of Australian product.
The company realised that some allergy sufferers and asthmatics were unable to enjoy wine, due to the undesirable reaction they had to preservatives usually found in wine. BRL Hardy decided to offer a No Preservative Added range so that this group could enjoy one of life's simple pleasures.
I spoke with Mark Allgrove, Brand manager for the No Preservative Added range. He said the first vintage, in 1991, included a Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon. They were very popular and the product quickly "walked out the door".
The next vintage was not until 1994 and it suffered some problems with colour and stabilisation. Browning in the Riesling and cloudiness in the Chardonnay resulted in removal of some Chardonny from the market and withdrawl of the Riesling. The Cabernet Sauvignon was not affected.
Some clarification of the Chardonnay using egg white was required and the cloudiness problem is now solved. The 1995 vintage Chardonnay and Cabernet Suavignon is holding out very well., but the range will not continue with a Riesling. The Chardonnay is made from Sunraysia fruit and the Cabernet Sauvignon comes from McLaren Vale and Riverland fruit.
The winemakers at Hardys, through the use of innovative winemaking techniques, have been able to craft the current range of No Preservative Added wines, without the use of any added preservatives, to create wines which are full flavoured and fruit driven. According to Mark Allgrove the success of the product relies on rich fruit flavours, because it must be "in the package and out quickly". No preservative added wines have a short life and are not recommended for cellaring BRL Hardy quotes a conservative two year life expectancy for their range
The Cabernet and the Chardonnay both received minimal oak treatment. The Chardonnay has under gone malolactic fermentation to add complexity and increased micro-biological stability.
I discussed with Mark my approval of some other brand preservative free wines I have tried in the past, and my disappointment with some others. He agreed that the No Preservative Added wines are a different style of wine to those with preservatives, but argued that they do have merits in flavour, quality and individuality.
Mark has had some positive response from working with the Asthma Foundation. Sulphur dioxide, the main preservative associated with wine may cause asthma attack or other allergic reaction, such as sinus irritation or headaches, in some people. Mark suggests that the level of awareness of the benefits of no preservative wine is low. While acknowledging that it is a niche product with a small demand, he has also developed a program to improve the knowledge of retailers, consumers and sales reps.
Small neck-tags and shelf talkers tell the story of innovation required in the wine making process and the benefits to drinkers with allergies. The neg tag has a smiling grape logo and the message is "the only reaction you should have is a smile".
The winemaking process requires fruit with high sugar levels, resulting in higher alcohol and lower acidity, which helps to naturally preserve the wine, and the harvesting process is carefully controlled to restrict oxidation. This includes selection of vineyards close to the winery and harvesting fruit at night. This careful attention is continued throughout the process to until a natural product is sealed into the bottle. Promotional literature reads "from the earth came the vine , from the vine came the grape, from the grape came the wine, all we added is the bottle".
Mark does expect the market to grow and he says BRL Hardy is committed to the product. While the technical problems have resulted in a lack of confidence from the suppliers, consumers have been returning for more wine. Mark says "there is definately a place for this product in the market. We will invest resources to secure this niche for us".
Winemaker Tom Newton states the "the success of this range has lead to Hardys using less sulphur in their table wines".
Producing a quality wine presents many challenges. The production of wines without sulfites adds to these challenges and the extent to which the winemaker must draw on technology, innovation, experience and intuition to produce wines of distinction such as the BRL Hardy No Added Preservatives range.