Q: First off, what led to you enter the wine industry?
A: Good question; I initially got my diploma in general hospitality, but when I left school, I didn’t exactly know what I wanted to do. I have always enjoyed cooking, so at the start I was cooking focused with a small interest in wine. But it was in that first year when wine took my interest more than the food. Even though I did still love to cook, I asked around and managed to get an interview in Melbourne, Australia. There I just happened upon one of the greatest wine experiences in my life and I was very lucky to begin my career where I did. I had some great mentors and it just went from there. Wine became more than just a job, it became my passion.
Q: So what advice would you have for someone who would like to get into the wine trade?
A: My advice would be, you need to have an interest in whatever you do in order to succeed. You have to want to learn more. So ask yourself, is this something you are really interested in? If so fantastic! I would do some wine courses first, but you should probably augment that with a part-time or a full-time job at a local wine store or a supermarket with a fine wine speciality. Also travel. I would suggest to travel and to get out to as many vineyards as you can. Go to them, meet the winemakers, ask them questions and taste the wines. If you show up interested they will give you the information you need.
Q: More about travelling – do you have a region that you like to visit, just for the wine culture?
A: Look, for me France is still the pinnacle when it comes to wine. As far as travel goes, there are some regions in Italy that I simply adore. But if I had to choose one region, it would be probably Champagne in France, just for the beauty of the towns, the people and being amongst one of the great products of the world.
Q: So what do you look for in a bottle of wine? What do you look for when you go out and select your own?
A: I do like my wine to be different. I look for consistency in brands that I trust, but when I am branching out and trying new things, I am looking for a point of difference. It might be the way that wine is being made, and I can tell a little about that just by tasting and smelling it. I look for a different variety, or for a wine made in a country I have never been to before. But really at the end of the day what I am looking for is balance. Balance between fruit, acidity and alcohol – all of the parts of the wine need to be balanced so that nothing sticks out. I don’t ask for much, but balance is the big thing, and balance can be found in a USD20 bottle of wine or a USD5,000 bottle of wine.
Q: So it is not all about the price?
A: Not at all! In fact, some of the best wines I have had in Australia haven’t cost more than AUD15 a bottle and they are beautiful examples of balance. Conversely, I have had some very expensive bottles of wine that I have thought to be out of balance.
Q: You were discussing brands you trust; can you tell me a little bit about Penfolds?
A: We are 171 years old, one of the oldest Australian wineries with a continuous wine-making history, started in 1844 by a man named Chris Penfold and his wife Mary. Chris was a doctor from England and started his practice at what would later become our home winery, where we still crush about 100 tonnes a year. We are sold in a lot of different countries and we are very much a premium wine brand. We don’t play, so to speak, at the bottom end of the market. Penfolds is very much aimed at the luxury market, for someone who appreciates the finer things in life. That is not to say that we don’t have affordable wines, we absolutely do, we have been producing amazing wines from the beginning and some of our wines are over 50 years old and still look fantastic today.
Q: What is it that makes wine so special?
A: What I see, which is a constant in wine throughout the ages, since civilizations planted their first vineyards, is that family and togetherness are huge. Family is everything – enjoying life with the family is more important than anything. And as far as I am concerned, that is exactly what wine does. It brings people together. Wine is a showpiece, it is an addition to a meal, it allows for conversation to start – it is enjoyment, it is togetherness. Wine is more than just an alcoholic beverage, it is something far greater than that. I think that wine’s future is very bright. If people are just starting, I would say experiment – don’t just find one wine you like and keep drinking it; don’t just get one brand. Just drink across the world. There is something for everyone’s price point in every country. When somebody recommends something, just try it.