A Detailed History
I have worked 30 vintages throughout the world, in both Europe and New World countries in the last 21 years. My knowledge expands both working in many regions of the world as well as in-depth knowledge of most of the wine regions of the world.
My education in wine started at Auckland Polytechnic where I completed an introductory course about wines of the world. My interest came from drinking wine and wanting to spend money wisely such that I purchased good examples showing typicity yet not hugely expensive, originating from different regions of the world, (at least in the early stages of my education). Today I search great wines showing concentration and balance and that offer quality relative to price.
I moved to Christchurch in 1988 where I regularly attended blind wine tastings. This involved tasting approximately 10 different bottles at a time, all served blind and where impromptu questions were asked of the group as to the 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 in Paddington with Richard Baldwin who had worked for Lindemans for 20 years as a winemaker. My passion for wine was overflowing and as I learnt more about winemaking from Richard I became infatuated with being a winemaker.
I returned to Christchurch in late 1991 to study at the world renowned Lincoln University, Christchurch, NZ to study winemaking. I completed the one year post graduate diploma with honours in 1992, being one of the top 5 students of the year. Having studied at Auckland University previously where I completed a Science Degree, double majoring in Botany and Zoology with a Chemistry background meant that had all bases covered for winemaking.
My first vintage was working with the world renowned Danny Schuster from Omihi Hills Winery, North Canterbury, NZ. Danny is now based on Waiheke Island, NZ and has become a greatly sort after viticultural consultant who consults to icon producers such as Sassicaia, Masseto, and Stags Leap, to name but a few. I helped make the wines with Danny in 1993 and then worked in his vineyard for two consecutive winters, acquiring his excellent viticultural skills with a special emphasis on pruning.
Whilst working with Danny Schuster for the 93 harvest, I also helped make the wines at Pegasus Bay Winery, Waipara, NZ. It was here I realised that I loved making wine in the cellar; the hands on practicality combined with frantic, hard work especially over the harvest period captivated me like no other job before. As a result I have travelled to Europe to work the harvest many times but always returned to Pegasus Bay to work in the cellar until 1996 when 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. This was 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. Harvest finished in late October and I went to London to work for Oddbins, the fine wine merchants, certainly back then. In the early days Oddbins had an amazing selection and I revelled 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, but we worked hard to make the best possible wines, considering the climate.
March 1994, I returned to Peg Bay (affectionately so 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. It showed me the makings of any true winemaker for the future; if someone could survive this, then they could make wine anywhere. August 1994 I went to the Northern Hemisphere to work harvest in Hungary with the Germany Company, Carl Reh and wine consultant Angela Muir. I primarily made Chardonnay and Merlot for export to the UK market. This was an eye opening experience to the world of winemaking where winery operations were more basic and let’s face it, somewhat scary. The things I did because I was young and passionate were somewhat extreme. During the harvest my co-worker David Cowerdroy who was working in Romania, fell off a 5m tank and had to return home. 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 working in the cellar through till after the 1995 harvest and then went back only to Romania for the European harvest of 1995. I again worked for Carl Reh, in Recas, making mainly Merlot for the UK market. December 1995, I went home to Peg Bay and worked in the cellar continuously and became the joint winemaker with Matt. We both had New World wine educations, but our European experiences both with making and wine tasting, meant we wanted to experiment and understand how to make complex and well structured wines, rather than simple, forward and fruity wines which NZ has often become renowned for. This philosophy encouraged further European harvests, namely in Burgundy, France.
September 1997 I worked with Christophe Roumier at Domaine George Roumier, Chambolle Musigny. This was an amazing experience to learn and understand some of the vineyards and wines of Burgundy and to work with one of the gurus of Burgundy. The focus was mainly on Pinot Noir, although Christophe makes a small volume of Corton Charlemagne (Chardonnay) and certainly my love of Pinot Noir, especially from cool climate viticultural regions became set in concrete after working harvest in Chambolle.
September 1998 I worked at Chehalem, Oregon, USA for the harvest, another cool climate region. This gave me an insight into the production of Pinot Noir from Oregon as well Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris.
I was permanently employed at Pegasus Bay, except for short periods away working the harvest in the Northern Hemisphere. I was involved with making all the different grape varieties made at PB, but my focus strongly orientated towards Pinot Noir There are many different ways to make wine as well as winemaking trends and certainly experience from all over the world is invaluable to better understand when to use what methods and with what varieties. I constantly experimented with all forms of winemaking to learn what made the best possible wine within that season.
My passion for Pinot Noir grew and I decided I wanted to live in Burgundy for a year to better understand the vineyards and different wines of the Cote d’Or. I worked vintage for Nicolas Potel at Domaine Nicolas Potel, Nuits Saint George, in 2001. Then I worked with Pascal Marchand at Domaine de la Vougeraie, Premeaux Prissey for the year of 2002. Domaine de la Vougeraie is a Domaine with 37Ha of vineyards, both Premier and Grand Cru vineyards from the Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune. I worked in the vineyards in both the Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune, giving me a better understanding of all the vineyards of Burgundy. An amazing opportunity as very few Domaines in Burgundy have such a wide spread of vineyards throughout the Cote d’Or. During the harvest period I worked in the cellar with Pascal, making the 2002 wines (an excellent vintage), from both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.
In my spare time I visited as many Burgundian Domaines as possible, tasting wines in barrel and bottle. I talked to many winemakers about their philosophies on winemaking and especially with reference to what techniques worked best relative to the growing conditions of that season. This gave me many ideas to bring back to Pegasus Bay and experiment with.
I returned to Pegasus Bay in December 2002 to resume my roll of winemaker, with greater education and understanding of how to make fine Pinot Noir as well as many other varietals as well. Knowledge on how to make other wine styles came from travel to many wine regions of Europe to taste and talk with the winemakers of great estates. My thirst for knowledge about wine was unquenchable. Since living and working in Burgundy, I have focused on only working at Peg Bay; rather I spent all holidays visiting various wine regions of the world. This has kept me abreast of subsequent vintages and new and existing wine trends. Visiting and tasting with many different producers can give equally, if not more knowledge on a region and its wines, than working the harvest.
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 work 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 and Riesling from the Waipara and Marlborough regions. This label was established late 2010 after the first earthquake in Christchurch. This brand is the dream child of Angela Clifford, wine marketer extraordinaire who is also very passionate about NZ wine. The philosophy behind the name is about a group of friends who fit together like a tongue in groove, (the old name of 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 10 years I have been strongly involved and a committee member of the Southern Pinot Noir Workshop. 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 the wines are tasted blind and discussion revolves around how to make the wines better, fix any faults and ways to improve future Pinot Noir production. I helped organise guest speakers, typically international scientists who are working specifically with viticulture and/or winemaking for Pinot Noir. I have played a major role in running these tastings and leading the numerous discussion periods. I have a lot of knowledge about making better Pinot Noir and wish to pass this on to young, up and coming winemakers especially in NZ to help to improve the reputation of NZ Pinot Noir, especially on the international stage.