THE world of wine is full of characters. But none more so than Harry Hunt, the former PR and marketing executive, turned dapper English winemaker who is busy making and promoting Andalucian wines from Southern Spain to the world.
The list of larger than life winemakers is already very long. But if there was an Olympics gold for personality as well as winemaking skills then Harry Hunt would be top of the podium. Here he shares his story.
Article published by Richard Siddle, via our partnership with The Buyer, a London-based online magazine that connects the premium on-trade.
HARRY Hunt is not alone in coming to the wine trade after enjoying success in a completely different field. But there can’t be many winemakers out there that could devise, run and implement crisis management strategies for multinational businesses. Including, for one client, shutting down parts of Cape Town to play out one particularly dramatic crisis management scenario that involved the emergency services and hired news crews. But that’s another story.
For prior to slowly making a name for himself as a winemaker, Hunt, spent a long and successful career as a high flying PR and marketing executive running major accounts for household branded names and doing his best to keep his clients out of the papers as he did trying to promote them.
So it was quite a change when he decided to give up what had become a pretty lucrative career to go back to school, as it were, and learn how to be a winemaker at the UK’s very own Plumpton College, with very little experience of wine other than drinking and enjoying it with friends.
He certainly likes to do things the hard way for after graduating with his winemaking badges proudly pinned to his chest, he did not look to find a safe job working for an existing winery in a well established wine producing region.
No, instead he headed to the remote hills of Andalusia, Spain, way above the beaches full of sunbathing Brits, to set up a negociant and winemaking business, Bodegas Tierra Hermosa, with his wife Katie. Together their inspiration and motivation is helping local growers and provincial oenologists make high altitude wines for markets around the world from grapes grown across the region.
Wines that have found their way on to Michelin star restaurants in the UK, thanks to their UK partners, Moreno Wines, and now, his biggest success, a listing in Waitrose for what they claim is the only red wine from Andalucia, called ANDA, on sale in a UK supermarket.
Here he tells his own story to The Buyer:
You are an Englishman making wine in Andalucia. How did that come about?
I had a reasonably successful career in PR and marketing for over 16 years, based in London, before leaving the industry in 2009. My wife and I first fell in love with Andalucía when we travelled through the region back in the early 90s. I was also an amateur vinophile, convinced that there were great opportunities for contemporary winemaking in Andalucía.
So it was a matter of trying to marry those two passions – wine and Andalucía. I had already taken some WSET exams in the UK and I had some close friends in the wine trade, but it was always the production side that fascinated me.
I was told about Plumpton College in the UK, so I enrolled on a full-time degree in wine production. I also undertook vintages in Bordeaux, in the Northern and Southern Rhône valleys in France, and in Spain, always with the goal of producing wine in Andalucía.
In time we founded Bodegas Tierra Hermosa, the first negociant-style wine producer of its kind in Andalucía. We now collaborate with grape growers, small independent or cooperative wineries and provincial oenologists to create a range of wines, all under our Tierra Hermosa brand.
Why did you want to move from world of PR and marketing to become a winemaker?
For the most part, I enjoyed my time in PR and marketing. But the industry started I think to take itself a little too seriously and it got to the point where I was running on empty. In any case, the seeds for Bodegas Tierra Hermosa’s creation were actually planted many years earlier, even if I didn’t initially realise it, and they were starting to take root. That said, a lot of the skills I learnt in the PR industry have proved eminently transferable to what I now do.
After all, as anyone in commercial wine production will tell you, it’s comparatively easy to make a wine, it’s the selling part that’s bloody difficult!
What has been the hardest and best bit about being a winemaker?
On a technical level, producing wine is always challenging. Things can, and very often do go wrong or not work, and invariably at the worst moment possible. What’s most important is how you react to the things that go wrong. At the business end of things, you need to have a bottomless reserve of patience and fortitude – selling wine is a Sisyphean task!
We are very lucky in that being a negociant, our business model is based so much on collaboration. It has allowed us to create an extended Tierra Hermosa family in Andalucía and we have forged many friendships in the process. Together, we can overcome any obstacle thrown at us!
I also count myself lucky to have also made so many new friends in the wider vinous world. There are some unscrupulous types lurking in the shadows, but, by and large, the industry is built on great camaraderie – perhaps more so than any other industry I have encountered.
Is northern UK a target market for you?
As a Brit producing wines in southern Spain, the UK is clearly a key market for us. Our Tierra Hermosa range has been making great strides in the UK on-trade and independent wine merchant sector, with listings at Michelin-star restaurants in the south. We believe wine lovers in the North of England, North Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, where consumers are increasingly exploring different Spanish wine regions, would be very receptive to our wines from Andalucía. After all, they are probably already familiar with region from enjoying sun-drenched holidays on the Costas. Our distributors, Moreno Wines are also focusing more on getting their portfolio of wines out to customers in the North of England initially.
You have just signed a deal to launch an Andalucian wine in Waitrose. Tell us about it.
ANDA is our new Andalucían wine brand. The first wine under the ANDA brand is a Tempranillo/Syrah blend. It was launched in Waitrose in August, across 77 stores, including John Lewis Foodhall Oxford St, and via Waitrose Cellar online. It will be the only red wine from Andalucía available at a UK supermarket. Whereas our existing Bodegas Tierra Hermosa range, which is aimed at on-trade or independents, focuses on sub-regions within Andalucía, the ANDA brand is generically Andalucían, and deliberately so.
This allows the brand to tap into consumers’ pre-existing affinity with the region as a whole – the land of flamenco, castles, olive groves, sun, sea and sand. Millions of Brits holiday in Andalucía every year, now they can grab a bottle of ANDA when they return and it can transport them back to the sunshine!
We plan to roll out the ANDA brand into other international markets, focusing on countries where Andalucía is a popular tourist destination. Over the medium term we would like to expand the ANDA range to include further wines and perhaps other Andalucían products.
What do you see as the future of wines from Andalucia?
Like the azure skies of Andalucía, I think the future for Andalucían wine is very bright! International interest in Spanish wine continues to flourish and global consumers are increasingly receptive to exploring different Spanish wine regions, which is encouraging.
Sherry wines have undergone something of a revival in recent times, and non-fortified wines from Andalucía are now also slowly gaining in international reputation and recognition. Our existing Tierra Hermosa range is making great strides in the independent and on-trade sectors, with listings at Michelin-star restaurants in the UK.
In mass market terms, Andalucía is still a relatively undiscovered wine region, but we hope ANDA, with its unique and striking brand, is going to change that.