A Detailed History
I have worked in numerous vineyards and wineries around the world including European and New World countries and recently finished my 37th vintage. I have a great knowledge of most wine regions of the world in terms of winemaking techniques used and their wines.
My education in wine started at Auckland Polytechnic where I completed an introductory course into the wines of the world. My interest came from drinking wine and wanting to spend wisely buying good examples showing typicity yet not hugely expensive. Today I search great wines showing concentration balance and that offer quality relative to price.
I moved to Christchurch in 1988 where I regularly attended wine tastings. This involved tasting wines blind with impromptu questions asked about country of origin, variety, region and vintage. This gave me an excellent grounding in wine tasting and a simple understanding of the wines of the world.
1991, I worked in Sydney for a fine wine bottle shop with owner Richard Baldwin who had been a winemaker for Lindemans for 20 years. My passion for wine was overflowing and as I learnt more about winemaking I became infatuated with becoming one.
I returned to Christchurch in late 1991 to study at Lincoln University, Christchurch, NZ. I completed the one year post graduate diploma with honours in 1992. Having studied at Auckland University previously where I completed a Science Degree, with a double major in Botany and Zoology and with a Chemistry background meant that I had all bases for winemaking/viticulture covered.
My first vintage was working with the Danny Schuster from Omihi Hills Winery, North Canterbury, NZ. Danny is now a leading viticultural consultant working for icon producers such as Sassicaia, Masseto, and Stags Leap. I helped Danny make the wines of 1993 and then worked for two consecutive winters in his vineyard, acquiring some of his viticultural skills with a special emphasis on pruning.
Whilst working harvest with Danny Schuster, I also helped make the wines at Pegasus Bay Winery, Waipara, NZ. It was here that my love of winemaking took off; the hands on practicality combined with frantic, hard work especially over the harvest period captivated me like no other job. I traveled to Europe to work as many northern hemisphere harvests as possible but always returning to Pegasus Bay to make wine and in 1996 I became joint winemaker with Matthew Donaldson.
September 1993 I worked at Chapel Down, West Sussex, UK with David Cowderoy making Sparkling wines with grapes from the Isle of Wight. An amazing experience, working night shift which was hard, long and cold, but lots of fun. I worked with Owen Elias, recently named winemaker of the year in the UK. We made sparkling base mainly from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. After harvest I worked for Oddbins, fine wine merchants in London. In the early days Oddbins had an amazing selection and I reveled in buying great bottles especially from small European producers. January 1994 I flew to Australia and worked the vintage at Pepper Tree Winery, Hunter Valley. This being the complete antithesis of working harvest in England. A hot, humid environment where disease pressure was high, giving me great insight into handling diseased fruit.
March 1994, I returned to Peg Bay (affectionately called) for the harvest. It was crazy, more work than one could imagine. One of the hardest vintages of my life with very little sleep and long periods of extreme, hard physical labour. If I could survive this, then I could make wine anywhere. August 1994 I worked harvest in Hungary with the Germany Company, Carl Reh and wine consultant Angela Muir MW. I primarily made Chardonnay and Merlot for the UK market. This was an eye opening experience where winery operations were primitive and somewhat scary. During the harvest my co-worker David Cowerdroy who was working in Romania, was injured; I took over responsibilities for the Romanian production as well. Many hours were spent driving between Szekszard and Recas (5 to 6 hours), providing the border controls were open, not too busy and my visa seemed perfect on the night. The stories I could tell of boarder control issues would amaze most.
I returned to Peg Bay in December 1994 helping to make the wine until the Northern hemisphere harvest called again, this time back to Romania. I again worked for Carl Reh, making mostly Merlot for the UK market. December 1995 and time to return home, working at Peg Bay to become joint winemaker with Matt. We both had New World wine educations, but our European experiences with winemaking and wine tasting, meant we wanted to experiment and understand how to make complex and well structured wines. This philosophy encouraged further European harvests, namely in Burgundy.
September 1997 I worked with Christophe Roumier at Domaine George Roumier, Chambolle Musigny. This was an amazing experience learning about the vineyards and wines of Burgundy and gave me the opportunity to work with one of my heroes. This cemented my love of Burgundy and Pinot Noir.
September 1998 found me at Chehalem, Oregon, USA, giving me an insight into the production of Pinot Noir from Oregon with a little Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris to boot.
I was permanently employed at Pegasus Bay, except for short periods away working the harvest in the Northern Hemisphere. As one of their winemakers I was involved with making each of the varieties but I owned the Pinot Noir and wanted to take it to new heights.
My passion for Pinot Noir grew as did my desire to live in Burgundy for a year to better understand the vineyards and wines of the Cote d’Or. I worked vintage for Nicolas Potel at Domaine Nicolas Potel, Nuits Saint George, in 2001. In the New year I worked with Pascal Marchand at Domaine de la Vougeraie, Premeaux Prissey for the whole year of 2002. Domaine de la Vougeraie is a Domaine with 37Ha of vineyards, both Premier and Grand Cru vineyards from both the Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune. Working in the vineyards of the Cote d'Or gave me a better understanding of this incredible region. Very few Domaines in Burgundy have vineyards spread throughout the Cote d’Or. After spending the winter and growing season in the vineyards I assisted Pascal to make the wines. A momentous year of learning.
In my spare time I visited as many Burgundian Domaines as possible, tasting wines in barrel and bottle. I asked every winemaker about their philosophies on winemaking with particular reference to the growing season. This gave me many ideas and knowledge for making future Pinot Noir at Pegasus Bay.
I returned to Pegasus Bay in December 2002 to resume my roll of winemaker, with greater education and understanding. Whilst living in Burgundy I traveled to other regions gaining invaluable knowledge on making other varieties also. My thirst for knowledge was unquenchable. Once back home I realised that I needed to maintain that contact with Europe and spent every holiday visiting several wine regions and the mandatory return to Burgundy. Visiting and tasting with different producers gives equally, if not more knowledge on a region and its wines.
I completed my 20th harvest at Peg Bay in 2012 and left to establish my own wine consulting business. This has lead to me making Syrah in Hawkes Bay for French investors which has been exciting to learn the subregions of HB. I have learnt much about the different clones of Syrah and how to make exciting wines from this variety. I have also had the opportunity to work in Crimea offering my consulting services. I worked for a small Domain called Uppa Winery; the vineyard planted in 2008 and run using biodynamic practices. I have enormous wine knowledge and experience which would benefit any winery to help them improve wine quality and make wines which better express their site and growing season.
I am the winemaker and part owner of Tongue in Groove, a wine brand producing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling from the Waipara and Marlborough regions. This label was established late 2010 after the first earthquake in Christchurch. The philosophy behind the name relates to a group of friends who fit together like a tongue in groove, (the old name for the needle of a record player, fitting into the groove of a record). We all are very passionate and dedicated to making great wine.
For the last 15 years I have been strongly involved as a committee member of the Southern Pinot Noir Workshop and the MC since 2015. This is an annual event for four days where winemakers from NZ and the world come together to show barrel samples of Pinot Noir. All wines are tasted blind and discussion revolves around how to make the wines better, fix faults and how to improve future Pinot Noir production. I help organise guest speakers, typically international scientists who are working specifically with viticulture and/or winemaking techniques of Pinot Noir. I have played a major role in running tastings, leading discussion panels, planning budgets, organising sponsors and maintaining these relationships so sponsorship is ongoing. I have a lot of knowledge about making better Pinot Noir and wish to pass this on to young, up and coming winemakers in NZ to help improve the reputation of NZ Pinot Noir, especially on the international stage.
Most recently I have been the winemaker for Pyramid Valley Vineyard in Waikari, North Canterbury. This is a small producer using biodynamic principles growing and making Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; a cult NZ brand. A fabulous opportunity to maintain the ethos of the winery and continue producing iconic wines.
Educating people about wine is also of great importance to me and hence I have been teaching WSET Levels 1,2 and 3 to students at the Celia Hay School of Wine and Food for the last few years. I love being able to pass on my knowledge, enthusiasm and passion of wine.