Eddie McDougall is the man behind The Flying Winemaker, Hong Kong’s homegrown wine brand and retail shop. He tells Adele Wong about the time nebbiolo grapes literally failed him, the most expensive bottle of wine he’s ever consumed, and what zero wine duty has really done for Hong Kong.
A little background
Eddie Mcdougall was born in Hong Kong to Chinese and Australian parents. He earned his winemaking chops in Australia before repatriating back to Hong Kong to set up his own bar and winemaking operation. He has since branched out and is now hosting a TV show that takes him around the world, as well as launching an online platform that sends wines straight to your door.
Alright, so the zero wine duty has been in place for years now. What’s the verdict?
I think the industry has weeded out the players who are not so serious about wine, who were in it for the quick buck. At one point there were something like 3,000 wine importers in Hong Kong. Now you’re seeing a lot more professionals in the industry, the ones who are in it for the long term.
Yeah, it seemed like wine was all anyone would talk about for a while there. Have people chilled out?
I think people will realize that wine’s just a drink that normal people buy and take home and drink, like anywhere else in the world. I hope for that reason people will be calmer about their wine-loving. Some people are very extreme — I think to the point where it’s dangerous, where they’re doing 10 tastings a week. That’s not normal.
What are wine prices like these days?
On the world scale of things, I wouldn’t say it’s a cheap place to buy wine, but the access to wine is incredible. You have variety, you have access from new wines to older wines. That’s probably one of the highlights of the abolition of wine taxes.
What was it like making your own wines in Hong Kong?
I made my wines at 8th Estate in Aberdeen. Unfortunately, they’ve now closed that facility down and moved everything out. I think they were maybe a little bit ahead of their time.
When I was making wines at the 8th Estate, there was a lot of risk , a lot of unknown factors. I didn’t have the support of other wineries or friends in the industry around me to troubleshoot situations. I managed to get through it okay, although there probably were things I would’ve done differently.
What surprised you about the process?
Something that I’ve learned is that the winemaking part is already done for you in the vineyards, so there’s not a lot to do. So doing too much could be your worst enemy. Because you keep thinking that you gotta add something or change something, otherwise you’re not doing anything. But, in fact, you kinda just need to babysit and sit back and watch. I learned that from my winemaker mentors.
Any other hiccups you learned from along the way?
The first wine that I ever made was part of a university project. We were told to make a red wine. I picked nebbiolo grapes, started doing all the fermentation, did everything by the book.
I pressed the wine, and it ended up really light in color. I had already pressed the skins and extracted all I could. I thought, ‘Damn, I made a rosé, I’m definitely gonna fail.’ When I submitted the wine, the teacher was like, ‘You haven’t done the assignment.’ What I didn’t know was that nebbiolo is one of those varietals that has a very light color, and it takes about a month to extract the full color and tannins and all the other pigments out of the skins.
Over the years, I’ve become a massive advocate for rosé. I mean, I wasn’t thinking about it back then, but maybe that was a sign or some sort of calling.
What’s the most expensive bottle of wine you’ve ever bought?
The most expensive wine I’ve ever purchased was HK$4,000 to to $5,000. It was an old Spanish wine from a producer called Vega Sicilia, which was consumed on the day of purchase.
When you get to that stage, you want to drink the wine with people who want to sit there and talk about it, and be geeky about it. It was great. It’s not my Tuesday night wine.
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