New TV series highlights Asian wines
Young, exuberant and full of character, Eddie McDougall has a lot in common with the "new, new world" wines he explores in his television series The Flying Winemaker.
But the award-winning Australian winemaker has studied, grafted, tasted and blended his way up the oenological ladder, earning his moniker because of his habit of jetting from vineyard to competition to television studio.
He's about to share his lively brand of entertaining education on wine in Asia in his new series on TLC, which starts on September 15.
The young McDougall had very little experience in wine when he took a waiting job to help pay the bills while studying international business in Brisbane. After one particularly gruelling evening of difficult customers, sketchy kitchen service and paltry tips, he was ready to throw in the towel.
After work, his boss sat him down with a glass of wine from a bottle left by a customer. "I took a sip, swallowed, my eyes bounced open, and I said, "Holy hell, I've got to learn how to make this."
McDougall, who is part Chinese, enrolled in a wine technology and viticulture course at the University of Melbourne. This time his part-time job was at the prestigious boutique winery Shadowfax.
"They offered me an opportunity to learn the craft, and work with someone highly experienced, and a label that was winning a bucketload of medals. I haven't looked back since," he says.
By 2007, he had created his first label, Umami Wines of Australia, which won a rare 90+ points from James Halliday, the country's most influential wine critic. That was a surprise, he says. "I never thought that much of my wines, to be honest, so it was a bit strange. It's humbling to get a good review and sometimes you have to take a bad one on the chin, too.
"Being consistent is another thing. To deliver year-to-year is difficult, even rare. That's the biggest challenge," he adds.
McDougall has since worked as master winemaker at the 8th Estate Winery in Aberdeen, and consulted for high-profile clients such as Hilton, Swire Hotels and Joel Robuchon.
In 2011 he launched a new wine label under his own name, while also opening wine shop-cum-classroom The Flying Winemaker.
It's in this "wine gallery" that he kicks off the TV series as he sets off from Hong Kong, where he looks at the perennial issue of pairing wine with cuisines across Asia. It's an adventure that includes abalone diving, chicken testicles and a chilli-eating challenge alongside the good, the bad and the surprising of the wine world.
McDougall says the region has a longer winemaking history than is realised, especially on the mainland.
"China is going gangbusters. It's one of the top five wine producers in the world. China went nuts in 2009 and 2010, but, from 2011, it has slowly plateaued out," he says, adding that he has just awarded a gold medal to a wine made in China. Inner Mongolia's Hansen Winery took the prize at the Shanghai International Wine Challenge.
"There are more wines being made in the tropics, and some winemakers are making impeccable wines. India was a massive highlight. Out of all the wine-producing countries it's the youngest, just tipping 20 years.
"There's an extreme passion and drive to make India's best wines and they've come a long way in a short amount of time. A lot of that belief is now solidified by investment," he adds, citing Moet & Chandon's vineyards in the country. He believes his experience gives him an advantage in judging.
"I've seen wines from the dirt through to what goes into the bottle. My judging parameters in terms of how I give scores are technical, but hopefully with an understanding of what the winemaker is trying to achieve. I am critical and I speak my mind, which I think is important."
The people behind the labels are, to McDougall, just as important as uncovering a new region, when it comes to showcasing Asian wines.
"My philosophy is to connect the consumer to the winemaker, and show the real story and real personality behind the wines," he says. "It is time for Asia to be proud of its local wines."