Having quit my job at the BBC, and swapping it for a full time gig in a wine bar just down the road, I was asked by, my boss, to attend the first ever Real Wine Fair, in London. I was to attend, as a representative of the west London bar, Albertine, and report back, with tasting notes of which wines I thought could might make it onto our award winning list.
Arriving at the Real Wine Fair, at Victoria House in Holborn, I remember it wasn’t as glamourous as I’d first imagined. Underground, with white washed walls and thick concrete columns supporting an exposed ceiling of wires, cables and pipes tracking over and above the room, like an imitation London tube map. Streamers and bunting were stretched and draped between the white support columns, making the place just a little bit more aesthetically pleasing. The tables where the exhibitors showcased their wares were all the same; uniformed white cloths laid over trestle tables with a black and white sign taped to the front that said who they were and where they were from. It was all about access, and leveling the playing field, so that no one producer had a flashier stand than the other.
As I set about exploring the rooms with my little black book (for tasting notes), doing my best to to look like I knew what I was doing, I tasted wines from right across Europe and beyond. It was special to be able to meet the winegrowers of some of the wines I’d talked about to people at the bar. The underground room was cavernous and the sound of enthusiastic chatter reverberated against the underground. After lunch, I headed up a small flight of stairs, and upon the Australian contingent… all three of them.
Tom Shobbroook from the Barossa (his wines were present, he was not), Tom Belford from Bobar in the Yarra Valley, and Adam Castagna from Castagna wines in Beechworth, Victoria.
Adam smiled, and recognised my worn Australian accent, then invited me over to taste some of his and his father’s wines. He was enthusiastic, passionate, and dedicated to the liquid he was pouring in my glass.
We moved our way up from the 2009 Adam’s Rib White and Red, then to the 2009 ‘Un Segreto’ (a blend of sangiovese and shiraz). As we did so, the neurons in my brain began lighting up thick and fast, pulsing brighter with every sip. The ‘Un Segreto’ was intense; dark fruits, black currents, pepper and earth. It was strong and weighty on my tongue.
Then Adam poured the Genesis.
Of course, the biblical references were completely lost on me, at the time, but this glass of wine that I was about to bring up to my lips and drink, would be the catalyst for a whole new life for me. The 2009 Genesis Syrah made my mind surge with intense pleasure, sweet confusion, and wonderful clarity, all at the same time. My third eye had, all of a sudden, been pried open – it was as if every single neuron in my skull had burst into life, and light. Synapses flashed and sparked as they blazed a trail back to my temporal lobes, igniting my amygdala and transforming this moment into blissful memory forever.
I couldn’t believe that this wine, the 2009 Castagna ‘Genesis’ Syrah, was from Australia. It wasn’t some brash alcohol bomb, and it wasn’t a wine for smokers, as my boss called most Australian wines. It tasted like the perfumed haunting’s of something from the Northern Rhône; enchanting, elegant, sleek, and agile, deeply complex and totally mysterious. It was sexy, handsome and desirable. In the bar we would have called it wine porn, although that would have done it some disservice. This wine was metamorphic, elemental. It was also, biodynamic.
I had just experienced my first profound wine moment. I wanted to learn more. I wanted to know where it came from, how was it made, and if there were any more!
The Wine Idealist was born.
Ever since that first mind bending moment, underground between the white washed walls, streamers and bunting, within that wonderful world of ‘real’ wine, I’ve tried to capture the slow shift of the Australian and New Zealand wine scene by writing a weekly narrative that speaks honestly about the winegrowers who are making natural, organic and biodynamic wines from their unique time and place in our world.
I’ve been privileged to have met some extraordinarily brilliant, passionate, and dedicated people.
The winegrowers, from New Zealand to Western Australia and everywhere in between, are nothing short of inspiring. From the way they manage their vineyards, to how they interpret their fruit and transform it all into wine. These are the winegrowers of the future, who will have the biggest head start of anyone when it comes to the climate change crunch.
Their pragmatism and insight to use the tools of organic and biodynamic farming will spread out across the wine industry, as people realise the quality of product created when you grow your grapes in this way. People will know that it is possible to make better tasting wines with freshness and vitality. Wines that speak of place, and showcase provenance, without the unnecessary interruptions of synthetic chemicals.
Eventually, certification will no longer be an issue, because those that spray with synthetically derived and potentially toxic chemicals will need to be licensed, and ‘conventional’ will automatically imply organic, not the other way around (it’s called wine idealism for a reason).
The Wine Idealist is now over one year old. In that time, it has enabled me to interview some of the most respected people, producing some of the most iconic wines in Australia and New Zealand. It’s enabled me to meet and collaborate on projects with some of the most exciting journalists, wine writers, and sommeliers in the country. And, most importantly, wine idealism has enabled me to learn.
So, to anyone who has ever had anything to do with wine idealism in this past year, thank you. Thank you to anyone I’ve ever interviewed and given me stories to write each and every week. Thank you to anyone who’s ever collaborated and worked on ideas and concepts that have stemmed from wine idealism, and most of all, thank you to the steadily increasing and dedicated readers who read The Wine Idealist each and every week. I hope that my stories enlighten your own adventures within the wonderful world of wine, and enable you to share in wine idealism with me. Long may it continue.
D// – The Wine Idealist