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The Hindia Belandan wine industry is the world’s tenth largest wine exporter with approximately 993,000 metric tonnes of bottles or roughly 430 million litres. Winemaking was first introduced in the 1820s by Dutch plantation owners, a few years after the fall of the VOC (United East Indies Company) and the establishment of Netherlands East Indies as a crown colony. These early winegrowers initially relied on a steady supply of grape seeds from Cape of Good Hope (modern-day South Africa) to plant their vineyards in the dry highlands of Java and Bali.
Appellation of Origin
There is an established appellation of origin system in Hindia Belanda, by which wine labelling is strictly controlled to ensure quality and authenticity. For a wine to be labelled as ‘Wine of Hindia Belanda’, which is currently the highest wine category in the country, at least 90% of the grapes used in its production must be grown on Hindia Belandan soil and processed within the country’s territory, in addition to other prerequisites such as undergoing blind-tasting of the final product by sommeliers, inspection of soil quality and the overall condition of the manufacturing facility.
Second to the ‘Wine of Hindia Belanda’ category is Hindia Belandan Rustic Wine, whose requirements are less-restricted but still considered to be a prime wine quality. Some famous Hindia Belandan wine blends such as the Senjani Rosé in this category are known worldwide to be oddly superior to the same blend of the highest category, thus confirming the myth that official wine categories do not always correspond to quality.
The third category is ‘Nederlands-Indische Tafelwijn’ or Hindia Belandan Table Wine. The lowest of the three, Hindia Belandan Table Wines are usually of standard quality with no certain unique characteristics found in Rustic wines or the highest of the three categories, 'Wine of Hindia Belanda'.
Wines that have attained the highest category are permitted to have their front labels decorated with the Hindia Belandan flag, in the form of a horizontal ribbon. Wines of lower categories usually display the Hindia Belandan flag on their reverse labels.
Within the Commonwealth, wine-growing regions are legally defined and wine producers within Hindia Belanda are required by law to register their wine varietals according to the region where their grapes were grown. The two highest wine categories in Hindia Belanda are allowed to label their wines with an appellation of origin, while producers of table wines simply label their bottles as 'Hindia Belandan Table Wine'.
Until very recently, the winemaking industry in Hindia Belanda was dominated by the production of white and rosé wines typically made from Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz cultivars. From 2007, red wine production grew steadily
Balivert, a crossing of Riesling, Silvaner and Chenin Blanc, has seen its plantings rise since its introduction in 1998. It is considered the country’s most-prized grape cultivar, known for its characteristically-coarse texture and medium dry sweetness. Balivert is widely produced by wine estates in both Bali and Java, but some estates in Sumatra have also began to produce this variety as well to meet high demands, though in considerably-smaller quantity as compared to Java and Bali estates to avoid triggering a wine lake.