Bruce Tyrrell’s family has been planting vines in the Hunter Valley since 1879, taking advantage of the region’s humid summer climate and high cloud cover to produce the kind of gloriously rich wine that is celebrated from New York to Tokyo and today increasingly Beijing.
Mr Tyrrell, the fourth generation of the family to take up the grape, loves engaging with China and Chinese drinkers and will be leading a delegation of some of Australia’s best known and loved family wines through the middle kingdom next month.
He has a simple way of describing the trade difficulties when dealing with China, whether it be wine or iron ore. “They are very good at rattling people’s cages, you throw a rock at China and they will throw three back,’’ Mr Tyrrell said.
Mr Tyrrell said he had also picked up on evidence that there was a bottleneck at Chinese ports as the wine was shipped, landed and placed in the hands of wholesalers and distributors.
“Yes there has been a bit of a what I would call a ‘go slow’ at the docks in China and also a bit of a slowdown in the processing of paperwork and labels and all that sort of stuff,’’ Mr Tyrrell said.
Working the Hunter Valley vineyard with his son Chris, the fifth generation to follow in the family’s wine traditions, Mr Tyrrell said he first noticed the slowdown in wine shipments at the beginning of the year.
“We noticed it four or five months ago, I reckon, and I don’t know the real reason for it,’’ he said.
Some people do think they know the reason for it. A political backlash from Beijing for a range of perceived slights such as growing commentary in Australia by politicians about alleged Chinese interference in our country, from our close alliance with the US or diplomatic spats over Chinese domination of disputed islands in the South China Sea.
Mr Tyrrell doesn’t know the answer, and he is just keen to get his bottles in the hands of as many Chinese drinkers as possible. He also appreciates that doing business with China is so much different from anywhere else.
“I would say this slowdown has been a bloody nuisance more than anything else, but that’s the risk of doing business in China,” he said. “Yes, I think the rules are different here than they are there … and you just have to live with that.
“And I think all you can really do is make sure that you dot the I’s and cross the T’s and get everything right, get your labels, get your documents and get everything right and that should reduce the problem. And make sure you have a good customs agent at the other end!’’
Tyrrell’s is part of the Australia’s First Families of Wine group, which represents 12 family-owned wineries in Australia, including award-winners such as Henschke, Howard Park Wines, Tahbilk, Yalumba and Brown Brothers.
Their tour next month will take them to key Chinese cities Shenyang, Wuhan, Jinan and Shanghai where they will spread the word about Australian wine.
“We’re going all right in China … I think you just can’t treat China like another market because it’s just totally different. The whole shootin’ match is just different.’’