Doing wine in the west

By Louise FitzRoy

“We’ve created a niche and people come to us for that niche.”

Harris WinesHarris Organic Wines in Western Australia is the only certified organic distiller in Australia making brandy and vodka for the national and Asian markets.

Owner Duncan Harris says, “We sell a lot of wine and spirits online and have just started exporting our certified organic brandy and vodka that was released in 2010 to Hong Kong and Singapore.”

“It is proving extremely popular with Asian countries and here in Australia. Our spirit is used in making the only Australian fortified organic wines, which are winning gold medals at the Swan Valley Wine Show. We were producing spirit for our fortified organic wines, so thought we’d make the most of it. Vodka has the same spirit base used to fortify our ports.

“All our sales into Asia are done with online sales. No intermediary; no wholesalers. We ship direct, door-to-door, with no import duty for Hong Kong.”

In 1998 Duncan and Deborah Harris bought a property in the Swan Valley – the oldest wine region in Western Australia and about 30 kilometres from Perth – and started establishing an organic vineyard. Their first vintage was in 1999 using Swan Valley grapes from a neighbouring dry grown vineyard.

Duncan says, “Most of our handmade produce is sold at the cellar door, which opened in 2000, besides one bottle shop in Perth. We prefer to sell “cellar door” as we are able to give tastings, build a relationship with our customers and develop our brand. We don’t need to worry about competing against other organic wineries in established wine states in Australia.”

“We have no desire to sell interstate because the wholesalers want 30 per cent markup. This means we would have to make twice as much wine for the same income.

“We are looking for more markets in Western Australia however. Some years ago we sent out a survey asking our customers where they would prefer to buy our wine. People asked us to supply bottle shops in the city. We asked a few stores about their range of customers and whether they would like to stock our organic product and most were not interested. This has been disappointing considering how close we are to Perth.

“I’d also like to target more overseas markets, but you have to consider whether the effort of doing so is worth it. I would like to sell my wine to an organic, all-natural wine bar in New York or Paris, but with the continual trips required – not to mention the import and export permits that are necessary – you’d spend a whole year doing it and may not even end up selling any wine. You would need to be there several times a year to service the customers, the wholesalers and the importer. Personally, I’d prefer to be at home driving the tractor.”

According to Duncan, there are only about 10 organic wineries in Western Australia.

“We are the only certified organic winery in the Perth area. We became certified with Australian Certified Organic in 2006. There’s a big enough market for more than one of us, however, not many wineries want to venture into the organic industry. It starts with the vineyard. There are only a few viticulturists that have the energy and passion to get out and dig weeds and walk vineyards day after day.”

The environment, social aspects, customs and economics are four important elements of Duncan’s sustainability plan.

“I built an underground cellar for naturally cooler storage temperatures and we bottle our wine in recyclable glass and cork. We use very small amounts of electricity in producing a litre of wine compared with the average usage for most other wineries in Australia. We also use low amounts of preservatives and additives.”

Being an organic producer of wine in a state well known for producing high quality wines has not influenced Duncan’s price point.

“Like anybody else, I add up the production costs plus margin, but being organic doesn’t mean that I need to raise the price point. My wine is competitive with other high quality wine in the country.”

He says the business’s online presence, including on Facebook and Twitter, continues to be very important to its growth and viability.

“This is where people look for answers and this is how many of our customers have found us. You’ve got to be on there, otherwise you’ll miss out. People in general are not aware of the herbicide, pesticide and chemical fertiliser residues found in wines. More marketing of the differences and health benefits will increase the awareness and the demand for organic wine.”

It’s not unusual for Duncan to host the occasional ‘Brandy evening’ at the winery, which gives him the opportunity to educate people about his products, as well as enables guests to taste and ask questions about organic viticulture.

“To make a supply chain work, it’s like building a brick wall. Do it one brick at a time.”

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