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Hardy Family Shiraz

A few weeks ago, I attended the Family Winemakers of California tasting event at Fort Mason, where hundreds of small, family-owned wineries were pouring their wines. I kept asking one question: How is the family involved? Growing up watching Falcon Crest, I’m guilty of romanticizing the lifestyles of families who own vineyards—you mean they all don’t have chauffeurs and lounge by the pool all day? 

Anyway, I came away from the event realizing that lots of family wineries are not passed down from generation to generation but instead are owned by investors who don’t work, let alone live, on the land. Of course, there are many like Esterlina in Mendocino that enjoy a significant amount of family involvement—the father’s a farmer, one son’s the lawyer, one son’s the businessman and one son makes the wine—and then there are the Hardys. I met Bill Hardy, of the fifth generation, yesterday at a small, informal tasting of Hardy Shiraz, and his stories restored my romanticized idea of families in the winemaking business.

Bill Hardy, oenologist and storyteller

Hardys was started in 1853 when Bill’s great, great grandfather Thomas Hardy arrived in South Australia, tried and failed at sheep herding, then bought a patch of land along the banks of the River Torrens to farm vineyards. The next 154 years is history as the thriving business (13 independent wineries and 6,000 acres) has remained in the family ever since. In fact, Bill’s daughter is returning to Oz from Europe to represent the sixth generation in the business.

Like the Channings of Falcon Crest, the Hardys had a strong matriarch in Eileen (Bill’s grandmother). After being widowed following a tragic plane crash, she took the reigns and became such a force in the wine industry that she was awarded the Order of the British Empire at the ripe old age of 84 (and flew to England to pick up her badge). For almost 35 years now, her children and grandchildren have made a vintage in her honor from nothing but the best fruit from regions across Australia. Yesterday, we sampled the 2001 vintage of that iconic wine, along with the 2005 Nottage Hill, 2004 Oomoo and the sparkling Shiraz.

Three Shiraz bottles: Nottage Hill, Oomoo and Eileen Hardy

No doubt the wines were characteristically tasty—bursting with the plummy fruits, juicy berries and with a kick of spice and pepper. While the Eileen Shiraz was elegant and is yet to come into its prime, the sparkling Shiraz was the most distinct. Stay tuned for more on that in a bit.