The Hardy name is as synonymous with Australian wine as the Bradman family is with its cricket. So for Bec Hardy a career in wine was mapped out for her from birth. But when in 2020 she took over the Pertaringa wine brand business from her parents, Geoff and Fiona Hardy, she notched up a first even in her esteemed wine family by becoming the first female vineyard owner and wine producer in six generations. Here she is joined by her husband, and business partner, Richard Dolan, as they explain how they plan to bring new generation thinking to their Bec Hardy Wines and Pertaringa range of premium wines.
Bec Hardy and Richard Dolan very much represent the new face of winemaking and wine producers in Australia. Looking to build on past glories with new ideas and winemaking styles for Australia.
Bec Hardy is particularly well placed to see the changes taking place in the Australian winemaking community as so many of her parents’ generation are looking to pass on vineyards and winery properties either to their children or new investors coming into the sector.
“That is how we picked up Pertaringa from my parents in July last year. It’s really very exciting for us and we have been raring to go ever since,” she says.
Hardy and her husband, Richard Dolan, already know the Pertaringa brand well as they have been helping to run Wines by Geoff Hardy for the last 10 years. Taking on the Pertaringa business is part of the family’s succession planning, allowing the older generation to take a step back, and opening the way for the younger generation to take over.
“They gifted a portion of the business to us in 2020 and we are buying the rest in June next year,” explains Hardy.
Richard Dolan has been part of the new Hardy generation since he first married Bec over 10 years ago. He’s a long way from his original home in Doncaster, Yorkshire, but has still kept at least some of his Yorkshire twang.
As well as the Pertaringa business, they also own the Tipsy Hill vineyard in the higher altitude Blewitt Springs region of McLaren Vale, and buy in grapes from a network of growers that the Hardy family has been connected with for many years, to make wine for the Bec Hardy Wines and Pertaringa labels.
“There is a lot of restructuring going on in the industry at the moment and we are looking to see if we can pick up another premium vineyard,” says Dolan. “There are some good assets coming on to the market and that will only accelerate on the back of what has happened in China.”
The McLaren Vale region is certainly the right place to be, he adds. “It seems to be very cutting edge at the moment. There is a land sale going on and a lot of the big brands that started in the 1980s and 1990s are changing hands and moving over to new winemakers and producers. We are also seeing vineyards that have been in the same hands for 20 years coming into the market. So it’s an exciting time to be starting a debt free wine business.”
Doing things differently
A strong indication that Hardy and Dolan want to do things their own way was the decision to replace the winemaking team of 15 years at Wines by Geoff Hardy with someone that could help them bring new ideas to the market – which they believe they have found in Bec Swincer. That said they were both quick to stress how much respect they had for the previous winemaking team, it was just a good opportunity to “have a change in style” and bring their own personality to the wines.
“We wanted to freshen them up a bit more,” says Dolan. “Bring back the alcohol and look at more contemporary lighter styles.”
It was also important for Bec Hardy to have a female winemaker to work with, being the first female winery and vineyard owner herself in the Hardy family. “There is a massive under-representation of female winemakers in the Australian wine industry,” she says. Particularly when you look at the even split of students taking viticulture courses in Australia, and yet still 90% of winemaker roles are taken up by men.
“I wanted to have a positive female role model in the business. In fact, most of the team here are female.”
She adds: “It can be hard when you are a mother trying to balance the demands there are working in the wine industry. We wanted to give more women the opportunity by being as flexible as we can with home working. One of our finance team used to live in Melbourne and now only works in the office one day a week.”
Swincer herself has three children of her own, adds Hardy. “She had worked for our cousin, Andrew, so she came highly recommended.”
She has also built up over 20 years of winemaking experience around the world, and as well as being winemaker at Petaluma, has worked in France and the US, most recently in California at the highly successful Prisoner Wine Company in the Napa Valley, which specialises in premium blended wines.
On returning to Australia Swincer says she is particularly pleased to be back in the winemaking community of the McLaren Vale and its “welcoming community of passionate winemakers”. She adds: “Having come from an all-female team and as a mother of daughters, it’s really exciting to be part of a brand that celebrates women pushing forward in the industry. As Pertaringa and Bec Hardy Wines enter a new era, it’s a huge opportunity for me to make my mark and play a part in something really special.”
The challenge she, and all winemakers in McLaren Vale, have is making wines that are true to the region, but do not attract the big alcohol percentages that most consumers don’t want to see any more.
“We are looking at how we can make our wines lower in alcohol,” says Hardy. “We have got wines in our cellar that we put down six years ago that just comes across as too big now. We don’t want to be getting up to 15% and 15.5% abv. Particularly for mid-priced wines. People want wines they can drink straight away, that are fresher and full of primary fruit.”
Dolan says these are also the wines that winemakers and wine producers are drinking themselves. “They are the styles of wine we enjoy as a wine drinker as well.”
It’s also where Hardy sees the younger generation of winemakers in Australia taking the lead and opening up new channels and opportunities for the country’s wines around the world.
“It’s the younger producers who are looking to make these fresher styles and who are looking at global wine trends and responding to them.”
The challenge they have, adds Dolan, is knowing how to export them. Or having the will to do so. “Look at Tasmania – 80% of the wine it produces does not leave Tasmania. McLaren Vale has lots of small, younger producers who do really well at home in competitions, but they don’t make it overseas. It means the real Australian wine being made here is not being represented on the shelves, say in the UK.”
It does, though, open the way for producers with the means and foresight to make wines they know are in tune with what international markets want to buy.
“We are benchmarking our wines against the lighter alcohol, fresher styles you are seeing in France and in Europe,” says Dolan, like with Provence rosés. “It’s where the market is heading, and where we want to lead.”
Hardy says it is a lot easier to introduce the lighter styles under her own label then start to mess around with Pertaringa itself.
“We are about to launch our Village Green wines that depict an old cricket village scene on the label that are all lighter styles,” she adds.
Dolan says the wine is a tribute to the famous ‘Village Green’ area behind the stands at Adelaide Oval where so many of the local winemakers and producers meet during a Test Match.
Its lighter style approach has seen Bec Hardy Wines fast track its export business to 13 countries over the last 18 months including Canada, the United States, Taiwan, Indonesia, China, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Thailand, Singapore, Luxembourg and Hong Kong. Its sights are now very much set on the UK and looking at how its wines can work best there.
Having the Pertaringa brand certainly helps open doors in key export markets like the US where it has recently signed a deal to ship over 130,000 bottles to major American retail outlets. “We want to be working in a diverse number of markets,” says Dolan.
Which is why it is currently on the look-out for a UK distributor and is working with Sue Harris at Westbury Communications to see what its best options might be for what is still such a crucial wine market for premium Australian wine.
“We want to connect with the right distributors in this market so that we can learn from them,” he adds. “So we are keen to talk to a lot of people.”
- If you would like to find our more about Bec Hardy wines then go to its website here. You can also contact Sue Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org.