Thousands of Islands Together: The Indonesian Wine Trade

To backpackers, jetsetters, and beach lovers, Indonesia is a tropical haven worthy of a thousand visits. Home to 17,000 picturesque islands, there’s always something new to explore in this culturally-rich Southeast Asian country. One of the biggest unexplored aspects of Indonesia is its small but promising wine trade.

As the biggest Muslim country in the world, wine production in the region is highly limited due to widespread alcohol prohibition. In fact, the Indonesian government only allows wine and spirit consumption in select hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs.

The good news is that the country’s recent economic revival has just given the middle class more purchasing power. As a result, the government has recently raised the level of import quotas and number of importers of wine and spirits allowed into the country. This could be a promising start for the local wine market.

History of Wine in Indonesia

The history of Indonesian viticulture began in the 18th century, when some of the locals helped Dutch explorers grow the country’s first vines in Kupang. In the 1800s, the Central Agriculture Committee reported the expansion of vine areas in Besuki and Banyuwangi in the island of Java.

Over the last few centuries, wine production has remained vastly limited. However, that has not stopped the country from emerging as a key wine importer. This is mostly due to the large demand from the middle class, who are willing to explore the predominantly Western wine culture.

A New and Emerging Wine Lifestyle

In the last few decades, the locals have developed a liking for the exquisite flavor of fine wines, especially when paired with the nation’s rich and spicy cuisine. Furthermore, the fact that liquor is thought to be a social lubricant, makes it a hit with the youth looking to connect with their peers. So, when the government finally allowed college students to drink wine in 2005, it wasn’t surprising that the local market saw a rise in demand for this particular tipple.

According to respected sommelier, Yohan Handoyo, some of the other factors that contributed to the rising popularity of wine in the country are its close proximity to Singapore, the increasing number of expatriates from Europe and North America, and the availability of inexpensive and reliable Internet connection.

Despite hefty government fines for alcohol consumption, there seems to be no stopping the rise of wine acceptance in Indonesia.

The Amazing Story of Hatten Wines

Located in the island of Bali, the Hatten Wines Estate is the biggest and most well-known winemaker in Indonesia. The estate was established in 1994, and has been growing Alphonse-Lavallee’ grapes and the country’s own Belgia white and Proplinggo Biru varieties for the last couple of decades.

The island’s tropical climate makes it possible to create unique and sweet-tasting wine. However, to grow wine grapes en masse, the innovative folks at Hatten Wines have had to use pergola trellising to avoid overexposing the grapes to heat and myriad diseases. Since the estate began using the pergola system, the vineyard has yielded better fruits, and consequently, higher-quality wines.

Like other tropical wine-producing nations, grapes in Bali are harvested throughout the year, which means nonstop winemaking and wine storage regardless of the season. Today, the Hatten Wines Estate has its own brand of wines, which are distributed throughout the archipelago.

Most Popular Wines in Indonesia Today

The country’s recent economic surge has changed how Indonesians viewed wine consumption. In 2011, 18 importers have penetrated the local market and many more are likely to follow. The improving taste of Indonesian wine lovers makes the country an attractive market for some of the biggest wine companies in the world. The following are just some of the tipples that have captivated the Indonesians’ discerning taste:

Sherry There seems to be a prevailing belief that sherry is syrupy and sweet. Contrary to that belief, this is a dry and savory wine meant to be sipped, not downed in one gulp.  With its strong and complex flavors, this brown wine is best consumed with food. So, the next time you bring a bottle of this tipple out of your wine cellar, make sure you have a tasty meal waiting for you.

Vermouth The name ‘vermouth’ was derived from the German word ‘wermut,’ which means wormwood. Back in the day, wormwood was the chief ingredient used in flavoring this wine—that is, until it was discovered that the plant was poisonous. Today, this fortified wine is flavored using choice herbs and spices. Its bittersweet flavor makes it a versatile drink that can be enjoyed on its own, or added to a wide variety of cocktails.

Moscato There’s a reason why this tipple is an easy favorite for wine lovers who have a penchant for the sweet. See, Moscato wines are characterized by their ripe fruit flavors—think peaches, apricots, oranges, and nectarines! Whether dry, bubbly, or smooth, Moscato is perfect paired with most Asian cuisines.

Champagne – Lastly, we have one of the most popular tipples in the world, Champagne. This sparkling wine is known for its complex blend of crisp notes and oftentimes, dry finish. Available in a plethora of flavors such as citrus, peach, almond, and white cherry, it’s easy to see why this ‘toasty’ drink is a staple in many wine vaults.

Wine Industry Forecast

Due to the receptiveness of the local market, experts predict a continued upswing in wine sales in Indonesia. The growing demand for both imported and locally-made wine has also paved the way for the establishment of more wine boutiques and retail shops in the region. If this trend continues, we’re looking at a stronger Indonesian wine market that could kick-start wide-scale wine production in the country.