From Non-Drinker To Natural Wine Advocate: Hsiao Tungwei of Unwined KL On The Growing Market of Natural Wines

We visit one wine bar that’s uncorking a new passion for innovative wines with a deep respect for the vineyards.
Unwined KL APW

Hsiau Tungwei of Unwined KL

A new crop of natural wine bars has taken over the Kuala Lumpur dining scene.

Tucked away in the corner of APW Bangsar, Unwined KL is not your typical wine bar, as I was about to discover. As I settled into my seat, the bar’s founder, Hsiao Tungwei, approached with a friendly smile. Dressed in a casual yet refined manner, he exudes a passion for the establishment he had carefully curated.

In a conversation with The Peak, Hsiao shared the story behind his wine bar, recounting the inspiration and dedication that fueled its creation. His enthusiasm became apparent as he spoke about the diverse selection of wines sourced from renowned vineyards worldwide. Each bottle had been meticulously chosen to offer a unique experience to patrons, providing a memorable wine-tasting moment.

Unwined KL APW

Unwined KL at APW Bangsar

“To be honest, opening this 250-square-foot bar has truly changed my life in the last couple of years. I’ve had the opportunity to meet people in this industry, and the friendships that have blossomed—it’s amazing,” Hsiao remarks with a smile. “It’s a big growing market. I believe natural wine is the fastest growing market.”

The journey of introducing natural wines to the local community began unexpectedly. Not initially a wine enthusiast, Hsiao stumbled upon natural wines about five years ago. The distinct flavours and stories behind the winemakers captivated him. It became a natural progression to open Unwined KL in January 2022, becoming a pioneer in the Malaysian natural wine scene. However, the journey was not without its challenges. “It involved a bit of a risk, considering the uncertain market response. But we had the perfect place, and the perfect people behind us. Our goal is to bring as many different wines as possible and shock the market,” he explains.

Unwined KL APW

Reflecting on the growth of the natural wine market in Malaysia, the founder acknowledges the challenges of the local market, which was relatively slow to adopt this trend, unlike neighbouring countries like Singapore and Thailand. Despite these challenges, the past two years have witnessed exponential growth, with Unwined KL paving the way to open seven more natural wine bars in Kuala Lumpur alone.

Unwined KL houses an impressive selection of 500 wine labels at any given time, each one with its own story, which can be read through the carefully crafted label. I couldn’t help but settle into the cosy surroundings with a glass in hand, exploring the nuances of each pour.

The process of selecting natural wines at Unwined KL is meticulous. Hsiao underscores the significance of variety and uniqueness in their curation. “We made sure to feature wines from various regions in Italy. When it comes to France, we diversified across different regions, carefully choosing a few producers. So we offer a comprehensive and diverse range of natural wines.”

Hsiao’s enthusiasm for wine is palpable in his story—a transformation from an uninterested bystander to a dedicated advocate for natural wines. He recounts the pivotal moment when orange wine, a unique twist on white wine, captured his heart. “About five years ago, I had the first taste of something natural, which tasted nothing like wine. It was a completely different experience from what I had expected,” he reflects. The discovery of funky, easy-to-drink natural wines ignited a passion that eventually led to the founding of Unwined KL.

Rather than overwhelming them with technical details, Hsiao wants visitors to focus on savouring a glass when they come here. Whether you’re just exploring or are a serious connoisseur, customers are encouraged to explore their preferences from the curated selection accompanied by captivating stories of the winemakers.

Despite the rising interest, the term “natural wine” still faces some negativity in the market. Its widespread misuse has led to confusion and misconceptions. Unwined KL strives to educate its customers on the nuances, preferring the term “lower intervention.” The goal is to maintain the integrity of the term while fostering a greater understanding of the winemaking process.

Hsiao’s commitment to natural winemaking has extended to another venture, Super Natural Wines. The production process comes with challenges, as natural wines tend to be more expensive due to lower yields and a detailed approach. “There’s a lot more care involved, a lot more time,” he explains. The overarching goal is to make natural wines accessible to a broader audience, challenging the prevailing notion that these wines are exclusively high-priced.

The core of Unwined KL’s philosophy is rooted in the conscientious care of the land. “If you don’t take care of your land and your grapes, you can never produce wine the way it should be,” he asserts. This commitment to the principles of natural winemaking became the cornerstone of their venture, prompting them to establish their winery during the pandemic.

Looking ahead, Unwined KL is set to expand its footprint. “We’re planning to open another Unwined in downtown KL, probably in March this year,” the founder reveals. With a focus on distribution, Unwined KL aims to bring a diverse selection of natural wines to a wider audience, high spirits specifically to the younger generation who appreciate good quality products, as well as supplying to various establishments from high-end wine shops to fine dining restaurants.

This story first published on The Peak Malaysia February 2024 Issue.

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