August 28, 2023
JAKARTA – The craft of winemaking has come a long way in Indonesia over the past decade, from humble beginnings in East Java’s hip-hop community via burgeoning artisanal products to big operations. Bali plays a central role in the business today.
With a predominantly Muslim population, alcohol consumption is low in Indonesia. Yet, Indonesians have been making alcoholic drinks for centuries. Tuak, a local liquor made from palm sugar that contains about 8 percent alcohol, can be found in shops around Indonesia, especially in Sumatra and Lombok. The fermented mixture of coconut juice and other fruits that goes into Arak Bali, another popular alcoholic beverage, ranges in alcohol content from 30 to 50 percent.
Per capita alcohol consumption among adults aged 15 and older dropped to an estimated 0.33 liters in 2022, according to Statistics Indonesia (BPS) data, falling significantly from the prior year’s figure of 0.36 liters and thereby continuing a downward trend.
Nevertheless, the domestic wine industry has enormous market potential, claims chef and entrepreneur Vania Wibisono, who is also the founder of the Indonesian Wine Community.
Unsurprisingly, much of the demand is driven by Bali as an international tourism magnet, and winemakers are hoping that the local industry will develop as visitors return to the Island of the Gods now that the COVID-19 pandemic lies behind us.
Exports of Indonesian wine are still small. According to data from the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), US$177,000 worth of wine was exported to Singapore in 2021, followed by Malaysia ($32,200), Australia ($6,040), Switzerland ($1,560) and Timor-Leste ($1,560).
That suggests that Bali will remain the primary market for local wine, at least for now.
“There is a great deal of work to be done, because we need to educate more people about the various tasting notes of each wine. As our local wines tend to have a sour flavor, pairing them with fritters could be an alternative way to enjoy them,” Vania told The Jakarta Post on Aug. 11.
Indonesian wine exports faced various challenges, including high shipping costs and competition from foreign labels, Hatten Wines (PT Hatten Bali) founder Ida Bagus Rai Budarsa told the Post on Aug. 16.
Established in 1994, the Bali-based winery was listed on the Indonesia Stock Exchange (IDX) in January this year under the ticker code WINE. In a reflection of investor confidence, its shares have more than tripled since the IPO.
The winery had an outstanding performance in the first half of 2023 as its sales rose 71 percent year-on-year to Rp 110.09 billion ($7.19 million), while its profits skyrocketed 341 percent to Rp 20.69 billion, according to its financial statement filed with the IDX
Embracing different palettes
According to Joshua Simanjuntak, owner of eclectic bar Lokaholic in Jakarta’s Blok M area, local wines are wrongly viewed as being “cheap” and of inferior quality.
“When it comes to wine, it’s actually subjective due to personal preference; there are people who prefer wines that tend to be sour or sweet. What we lack is education about the fact that diverse regions produce wines of distinct flavors,” he told the Post on Aug. 9.
“However, if people say Indonesian grapes are acidic, that does not mean that the wine is less flavorful than its European or Australian counterpart,” Joshua added, explaining that he tried to introduce the local wines to a younger audience through wine-tasting events at his bar, which serves a variety of domestic alcoholic beverages.
He explained that the European origins of the winemaking industry led some to question whether Indonesian wines could truly measure up.
The sales and marketing manager for Isola Wine, Ngurah Gede Purnawan, echoed this sentiment, saying that, while tourists made up the majority of the market for local wine at the moment, this was expected to change, given the abundance of trendy hangouts for young people in Jakarta, such as the Blok M neighborhood, which now also serves local wine.
“We will continue to accept criticism, but we must also maintain a sense of realism, as the wine industry in Indonesia is relatively young compared with that of the West,” said Ngurah.
Climate and rules hold back the industry
Indonesia’s climate and government restrictions are deemed the biggest obstacles for local wines.
In March 2021, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo made public his intention to publish new guidelines meant to support investment in the country’s alcoholic beverage industry.
However, the President withdrew the proposed legislation two days later in response to popular outcry. The decision effectively killed any chance of growth for the distribution networks of local distilleries and wineries.
Hattan Wine’s Ida said those who already had permits could keep going, but those who did not, could not apply for new ones. When it came to distribution, he explained, most business owners were still dependent on municipal administrations.
“However, there are rules for distribution, and they vary by region. Many places in Bali, for instance, are permitted to sell alcoholic beverages, but there are also areas where it is prohibited. We do not issue permits like [in Yogyakarta], nor do we issue distribution permits; we can only sell,” Ida explained.
According to web portal Wine Enthusiasts, climate is the most significant factor in determining a wine’s expression, and grape wine is typically produced in non-tropical countries.
Grapes grown in temperate climates do not ripen as rapidly, resulting in fewer natural carbohydrates and increased acidity. These wines are refined, subtle and reviving.
Meanwhile, milder regions also produce wines with a more robust body and flavor. During fermentation, grapes develop more quickly and acquire more carbohydrates, resulting in higher alcohol concentrations.
Ida and his company are still searching for seedlings that suit Indonesia’s two-season climate: “Of course, you must carefully consider which varieties can be developed to produce quality wine.”
Vania noted that Indonesia’s winemaking industry was still in its infancy and that numerous brands had undergone substantial transformations. “As wineries mature, their wines tend to have a more refined and superior flavor profile,” she concluded.