A chance taste of wine from a discarded bottle led this papa to build a successful business and a beautiful family in Hong Kong.
Born in Hong Kong to Chinese-Australian parents, Eddie McDougall spent many years here before moving to Australia. He returned to the city 10 years ago and has been chasing and fulfilling his dreams since then. From marrying his childhood sweetheart and having two sons who fill up his days with their boundless energy, to setting up and running The Flying Winemaker, a business that allows him to travel the world and share his passion for wine, Eddie’s journey has been inspiring and fascinating! We say cheers to one of the city’s most dynamic young papas.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey from and back to Hong Kong.
I spent my first 11 years living in Jordan, Kowloon. After primary school, I was sent off to boarding school in Brisbane, Australia to further my education and play rugby at the highest schoolboy level. In 2003, I moved to Melbourne for a postgraduate diploma in wine science and viticulture, and to get access to local vineyards. After completing my studies, I started to navigate the wine country of Australia landing jobs in world-class regions like Clare Valley, Yarra Valley and Bannockburn. 2008 saw me venture off to Barolo in Italy to work with Vietti, one of the greatest wine producers in the world. In 2009, I was recruited by the 8th Estate Winery, Hong Kong’s only and first commercial winery. That’s where my Hong Kong adventure began. Since then I have married the love of my life and set up The Flying Winemaker.
What made you decide to get into winemaking and the wine business?
I accidentally discovered wine as an undergrad student, when I was lost and frustrated about not having a clear pathway in life. I was working part-time in a great restaurant in Brisbane called Isis Brasserie which sadly doesn’t exist anymore (not because of the name but because the owner decided to change the concept!). After one nightmare shift at the restaurant, I was left with no tips but a half drunk bottle of wine left behind by some unsatisfied customers. The remains of all opened bottles were always passed on to the team after their shifts. Normally, my knock-off drink of choice was beer or vodka and cranberry, but on this occasion, I decided to take up the wine option.
I was not a wine drinker, so I was going into this with very little expectations, but when the first drop hit my tongue, I was literally delivered an epiphany! I wanted to know why this wine was so delicious, in fact, I wanted to know who made it and learn how to make it myself. The next morning, I looked up a postgrad degree in wine science and viticulture, applied and got accepted. I then got myself an internship at a vineyard and literally started following my nose in search of the great wines of the world. I knew I didn’t just want to serve and talk about wine, but really wanted to get my hands dirty, work the vines, plunge the vats and roll barrels around.
How did the name “The Flying Winemaker” come about?
My job with 8th Estate Winery involved just that – flying off to different vineyards to source the best grapes. When I set up my business, the name just followed on from what my previous job had involved.
And from there to now…running wine tastings and educating, having an online store, a television show and more! Where do you see The Flying Winemaker going from here?
We just bought a premium winery in New Zealand called Gladstone Vineyard so our next phase is really about making higher-end wines. We may be aiming for the stars a little here, but we have our eyes set on making more wines and being more present across the globe.
What would your top three tips be for anyone looking to start a business in Hong Kong?
1. Just get started.
2. Be prepared to hear the word “no” several times before you get a “yes”.
3. You can’t fake it till you make it! Have integrity.
What does your regular work week look like?
When I am in town, I come to the office in Hong Kong (right below Sassy Mama’s actually!) about three to four days a week. Of course, my job involves a lot of travel. I visit Australia and New Zealand every four to six weeks, on average. We also have a lot of events and tastings – close to 150 throughout the year. That’s not just in Hong Kong. They could be in Taipei, Shanghai, Singapore, London, Seoul, Melbourne, Manila…I think at last count, it was 22 different countries in a year.
What are your immediate goals?
Work goal: Make more award-winning, delicious vino!
Personal goal: Give back a little more time to the family and involve them more with my adventure.
All right then, let’s talk about personal goals now. How did you meet your wife and why did it take you 15 years to ask her out?
I met Freddie growing up in Hong Kong and having mutual friends. I was also pretty close friends with her brother which kept me in reach of the long-term goal. Well, the short version (or at least my version!) of why it took 15 years to seal the deal was that I was a little shy and too chubby as a teenager to build up the courage to ask her out.
What’s the most rewarding thing about being a father?
Just being around the kids and watching them sponge off experiences is awesome.
How has being a father changed you? Do you play the good cop or bad cop?
I am the bad cop for sure! Our boys are both mama’s boys. The main thing that has changed is the priorities in life. I realise things like work and pressures of life can wait, but time with kids and family can’t. After becoming a father, I’ve noticed that although many of the places I visit are really beautiful, I don’t extend the stays any more. Once work is done, I take the first flight out because I want to be with my family.
You wear many hats – winemaker, television host, radio host, retailer, wine consultant, father. Which is your favourite one and why?
I love winemaking and being a family man the most as those are the two things in life I know I want to do and sustain all my life.
Are you more Chinese or Australian personally, and in your parenting style?
All my life, I saw myself as Australian. But as I grow older, I appreciate my Chinese heritage a lot more and I think I’m imparting that to my kids as well – the values of being respectful to elders and celebrating traditional holidays. My mother lives in Hong Kong and so do my in-laws, so the kids visit their grandparents often. I think it’s helped us stay in touch with the Chinese side of the family.
Why do you choose to live in Macau? How long do you see yourself living here?
We live in Macau for space! My wife also has a very successful career with one of the integrated resorts here. I should think that we’ll be here for another 8 to 10 years for sure.
After a long day, what’s your favourite way to unwind?
I love to run, run, run…between 5 to 10 km is a good enough distance to break a sweat and squeeze out the stresses from the day.
What do you love most about Hong Kong and Macau?
As a business owner, I love Hong Kong because it’s efficient, high-energy, collaborative and I find that refreshing, compared to other countries. On the personal front, there’s never a dull moment, is there?! With Wednesday night horse races to the many new restaurant openings, you can never be bored. Since becoming a parent, I’m also appreciative of the fact that this city is so much more than a concrete jungle. There are fun walks, beaches, camping and at any point, you can jump on a boat and get away. It’s very important to disconnect from the busyness of it all and soak in a bit of natural life as well.
As for Macau, I love that it is quiet, safe and has wide open spaces. My son’s just four and he’s able to ride a bike freely on two wheels! I don’t think I could do that till I was eight! After hectic travels all around the world, I really feel at home here. It might sound like a cliché, but the beauty of Macau is also that it has retained its Portuguese influence. As a person who loves food and wine, access to those products in supermarkets is awesome. And one simple pleasure is that things are not as expensive as they are in Hong Kong!
What are your favourite things to do with your children?
We enjoy swimming and bike riding.
Who do your kids take after?
Hugo takes after his mama, Benji after me.
Which is your favourite place for a date night?
Date night? What’s that? Just kidding! We like Belon in Hong Kong for a nice fun meal. In Macau, we like having drinks at Vida Rica at the Mandarin Oriental – yummy cocktails!
Which is your favourite wine? What about your wife’s?
I love Barolo but Freddie loves Champagne.
Thanks to the talented Verónica Sanchis for all the beautiful images above!