Niew Tai-Ran has worn many hats: aeronautical engineering major, investment banker, avid surfer, and, for the last 14 years, winemaker. Discover how this Malaysia-born, Singapore-native is championing the “do-nothing farming” philosophy at his vineyard in Oregon.
*This is an extract of an article that first appeared in Wine & Dine’s 2021 ‘Spice & Aromatics’ issue
I was born in London, and then the family moved to Singapore when I was still a toddler. I suppose what was perhaps slightly unusual for someone growing up in Singapore was that I had a relatively rural upbringing— the early years were on campus at Nanyang University (my father was a lecturer there), where it felt like we lived in the rainforest. And then we had house in Bukit Timah with durian, avocado, rambutan and coconut trees. My late mother was a keen horticulturist, and the whole family would be involved in tending to the garden and fruit trees. Those moments are some of my fondest childhood memories.
I went to Joo Long (Rulang) Primary School, then The Chinese High School (Hwa Chong Institution). I studied Aeronautical Engineering and graduated with a PhD in Fluid Mechanics from the University of Cambridge. It was there that my professor really taught me how to think. It was more an exercise in the philosophy of science than engineering!
ON CULTURE AND ROOTS
My last name is a function of a colonial administrator’s attempt to spell the Hakka pronunciation of our family name (饶 rao) when my father was born. I am very much Singaporean. It’s where I grew up, it’s home. The intimacy of the local culture, the heart- warming wit and humour that can only be understood with a decent grasp of Hokkien; these are things that mean a lot to me.
I also think that some Singaporeans take it for granted that the city is effortlessly cosmopolitan. It is a place with a global outlook, and you are not restricted to parochial views. Being able to grow up in such a society, I don’t make wine in the context of a particular subset of the global culture and that is liberating.
I have travelled extensively, and cross-culturalism is important because it lends itself to a broader perspective on everything we are dealing with. For example, you realize that the respect of craftsmanship is universal, and different cultures will bring their views on what matters, views on cultural heritage and that can influence how you will enjoy a glass of wine.
CAUSE AND EFFECT
I spent 12 years in finance working in Singapore, Hong Kong, London, and Beijing. I think my investment banking background has minimal impact on my work now but I actually started my journey into wine as a reaction to my years in finance. The initial stages of my travel and studies were not simply about a love for wine but were rather fuelled by academic curiosity. My long stint in finance was occupied with the urgent reality of trade and commerce, which left me with very few moments of quiet contemplation. Viticulture and oenology meant I re-engaged with science and technology, something I missed dearly.
In the year after I quit finance, I immersed myself into the culture of wine. I studied the WSET Diploma and poured over textbooks on viticulture and oenology. I travelled to California, Virginia, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo, Barossa and Tasmania. I suppose I came out of this process knowing I want to start my own vineyard. There wasn’t a ‘moment’, it was more of an evolution.
*Read the full article in Wine & Dine’s 2021 ‘Spice & Aromatics’ issue. Available at newsstands and Magzter