A trip to the Barossa Valley in the early 1970s lit a fire – a fascination with wine – but little did I realise the rich experiences that lay ahead.
What’s the answer when you are in London and broke, yet determined to visit the great wine regions of France? Answer: buy a bicycle and start peddling – through the Loire Valley, over to Chablis, then to Burgundy proper, north to Alsace, over the border to the Rhine and Mosel Valleys, back into France to Champagne and then home to London, three and a half months and 4000 kilometres later. From that time forward one thing was for sure: I just had to own a vineyard one day.
One of the joys of a life in wine is the opportunity to meet passionate, dedicated winemakers. A day spent with the mercurial Alphonse Mellot (blue shirt) in the Sancerre region of France is etched in the memory. What a guy – outspoken, dynamic and perhaps a bit eccentric, but a perfectionist totally committed to his craft. What a rare treat it was to sit around a table with Alphonse and that other legend of the region, Didier Dageuneau, and hear these two driven winemakers discuss their ambitions to make distinctive, world class wines.
During World War 2 the winemakers in Beaune, the capital of Burgundy, thought that thirsty German soldiers would pillage the extensive cellars under the city and that centuries of vinous history would be lost. So, they hastily sealed up some of the longer tunnels, painted the closures with yoghurt to encourage mould growth, and stacked bottles against the new walls. Once the fighting was over the tunnels were re-opened. So, today, there remain precious bottles from the 19th century resting quietly in these ancient cellars, each telling a tale of distant a vintage.
And, of course, there is the opportunity to taste some very special wines. Here is Jane working her way through a flight of rieslings at Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, a premium producer in the Mosel region of Germany. Their top rieslings don’t spend their whole lives in stainless steel during winemaking as do so many squeaky-clean Australian wines. Rather, they spend some time in traditional oak casks and undergo extending ageing on the lees for extra complexity. It’s at tastings like these that you start to imagine the future direction for your own wines.