Tuesday 31st Jan
The trip got off to a great start – 3 hours after boarding the plane, we were still on the runway at Heathrow, suffering from ‘technical difficulties’. We never caught up the time, and I missed the connecting flight to Hobart.
I finally made it to the hotel just in time to rehearse our presentation for the following day’s International Cool Climate Symposium with Mike Roberts of Ridgeview, and Chris Foss of Plumpton College.
Mike and I went for dinner at ‘Garagiste’ – one of Hobart’s most popular new restaurants. An almost Tapas-style menu, with some very odd combinations – some successful, some not. Eel and Beetroot was a winner. Great to spend some time with Mike.
Friday 3rd Feb
Friday morning was the session we were presenting, and we had 15 minutes to show the delegates what a conference in Brighton in 2016 would be like. Our bid was uncontested, and widely approved of, and it is very good news that the ICCS will come to the UK in 2016. Laithwaites will be closely involved, and our leadership in English Sparkling Wine will have a great platform.
More conference sessions followed – Jancis Robinson warned that while ‘cool-climate’ may be a great designation for wine geeks, and a useful forum to share grape-growing techniques, it was not a great marketing term, and shouldn’t be considered as such.
Ross Brown of Brown Brothers told us why his company had identified Tasmania for a major land investment, and the first for his company outside the state of Victoria. He is convinced that because of Global warning, Brown Brothers need cooler climates in which to grow grapes, and they are real believers that Pinot Noir is the next mass market grape phenomenon.
On Friday night, Jancis invited me to dinner with her husband Nick Lander, Michael Hill-Smith (the very first non-UK MW) and his wife Stacey, Michael Brajkovich (New Zealand’s first MW, and owner/winemaker at the inspiring Kumeu River winery) and Brian Schmidt – owner / winemaker at Maipenrai winery near Canberra, and Nobel-prize-winning astrophysicist. It was an interesting conversation!
Michael Hill-Smith was extremely generous with the bring-your-own wine – see my twitter feed for comments and pics of the bottles @Just1nHS
Saturday 4th Feb
On Saturday, I skipped a couple of the more technical seminars in order to visit MONA – the Museum of Old and New Art – 30 minutes upriver by boat from downtown Hobart.
If you ever go to Tasmania, do yourself a favour, and don’t miss this gallery. Founded by a maths professor who made his money by working out a formula to beat the casinos and stack the odds in his favour, he made a fortune gambling, and created this gallery with some of the money. It is INCREDIBLE – not just because some of the art is extremely thought-provoking.
When you arrive you are given an ipod which tracks your progress around the gallery by GPS, provides information about the exhibits (at any level you like – deep or superficial), records which pieces you looked at, and allows you to rate the pieces. It then emails you the entire tour so you can revisit it, and share it when you get home.
It should be stressed that some of the content is rather challenging – there’s a lot of sex, death and bodily functions – just what you expect in a Laithwaites trip report!
There’s also a brewery, one of Tasmania’s oldest vineyards, and an ace cafe.
Conference over, I headed that evening first to Melbourne, and then on to Adelaide, where I tried a very good glass of Geoff Hardy Teroldego with my dinner. Let’s hear it for light, fruity grape varieties!
Sunday 5th Feb
Steve Grimley picked me up from the hotel on Sunday morning, and we headed down to Red Heads just in time for an extremely unusual event – a hailstorm – which swept through McLaren Vale in the late morning. Mercifully, it seems that the stones were just a little too small to cause significant damage, although it made everyone extremely jumpy.
Steve and I had a lot to talk about. We were a couple of hours in when we opened the first bottle of Chardonnay – a Yabby Lake 2010 – one of Australia’s finest, most European-style Chardonnays. When lunchtime loomed, we popped down to The Victory Inn (South Australia’s number 1 rated restaurant according to TripAdvisor), where we continued our conversation over a bottle of Giaconda Chardonnay 2002 – one of Australia’s iconic small-production Chardonnays.
Steve is very proud of the bill (which he kindly paid) –
- 1 x Giaconda Chardonnay 2002 – $120.00
- 2 x Victory Burger @$12 – $24.00
- Total $144.00
A proper winemaker’s lunch!
We returned to Red Heads, and carried on through our agenda, with the help of a few more bottles, culminating in one of my very last bottles of Domaine of the Bee ‘Les Genoux’ 2009, which I had brought out specially to share with Steve.
Monday 6th Feb
Monday dawned a bit more soberly, and we had a wine-less, and very productive day of discussions in Steve’s office. Not much of interest for a trip report, but some real progress on laying good foundations for Source’s future.
Steve’s wife Annie was not feeling 100% in the evening, so Steve elected to stay at home, and sent me out to dinner with Jess. We had a lovely evening (back at the Victory), and it was great to spend a bit of time with the 6th generation of Hardy to make wine in Australia.
Tuesday 7th Feb
Dan arrived on Tuesday morning, and Steve and I took him through our thinking about how he and Steve are going to work together over the next few month.
We now have 2 distinct levels of wine for Red Heads, with distinct methods of production. We will shortly be explaining how they will be differentiated on the labels.
Red Heads wines – created by Red Heads winemakers
The new Red Heads model allows Steve’s winemakers to take in grapes from growers around McLaren Vale and other nearby regions like the Barossa, and make them into wines in larger facilities nearby. There is full control of the winemaking, without ownership of the wine, until such time as the blend is agreed for a bottled product, when DW buys the finished product, and Steve pays the grape grower a significantly higher price than if he’d just bought the grapes.
This means that we now have a steady flow of reliably good wines, in the Red Heads style, to go into labels like Tomahawk and Barrel Monkeys. We now need new brand ideas for Red Heads wines in the £8.99 – £14.99 price range. Steve and the team will work on this.
Most of the original labels were produced by combining large amounts of recreational drugs with expensive design agencies. This is not a sustainable model. We need to coax creative originality out using cheap, legal techniques. Any creative help would be appreciated.
At the Red Heads Studio level, Steve has plans to bring in a number of new faces this year to make their own batches of wine at the Studio winery. We are all very taken with the image of Red Heads as an incubator of talented new winemakers, who get the chance to try out their dark and crazy dreams without having to buy equipment or find their own winery space. We are determined to find new talent, and unleash it at Red Heads this year.
There are already a number of graduates of the Red Heads school who have gone on to greater things, and we will tell their story too. We will also make sure that we retain continuity with all of the existing Studio Members, so that they have a market around the world for their wines.
Later that afternoon, we brainstormed styles of wine for Red Heads to look at producing in 2012, and wrote ourselves a list of the sort of grapes that we should focus on, given Red Heads ‘big reds’ heritage. This included, Shiraz, Cabernet, Durif, Tannat, Touriga, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Grenache, Mataro (Mourvedre). Steve and his team will be on the hunt for great parcels of old vines.
Steve, Dan and I spent some time discussing how to make the best of Tash’s first few weeks in McLaren Vale, and how to make sure that she was gently inducted, rather than being bombarded from day 1. It is important that she builds a great relationship with everyone in McLaren Vale after arriving fresh from head office in the UK.
Wednesday 8th Feb
Here is an illustration of the kind of guy that Steve is. He has bought a small house in the centre of the small town of McLaren Vale. He’d like to be able to offer somewhere to stay when Direct Wines people are in town, or when Dan is up for a couple of nights. Eventually, Tash will rent somewhere of her own, but she will live here for the first couple of months and she will have a car to drive too.
Steve was there till midnight on his own, painting, to make sure everything was ready for Tash to move in. A few weeks ago, he and Annie came down to plant a few veggies in the garden so that Tash has some food, and herbs to cook with. I didn’t take any pics, but I am sure that Tash will be tweeting about it soon!
With Dan popping back to Melbourne on Wednesday, Steve and I went for a fantastic lunch at the Star of Greece – now officially my favourite restaurant in South Australia. It is a white-painted shack overlooking a lovely beach, with truly fantastic food, washed down by a bottle of Grosset Riesling.
After lunch, we discussed how to make sure that we make the most of the couple of days that Tony will spend in McLaren Vale next month, and more specifically how to take some great photographs.
I headed off to Sydney in the evening, and arrived late.
Thursday 9th Feb
This was a chance for a day in the Sydney office to catch up with the team there, and meet all the new faces in marketing.
It is great to see Ally Mawson and Rob Mack forming the core of a very effective ‘wine team’, combining well with all of Andrew Stead’s experience of how to sell wines leading the creative team.
The new office is a great improvement on the old, having everyone together on one floor, including all of the sales team (who are really beginning to fly), and it is quite a buzzy feel.
We brought in a dozen or so of the wine advisors and call centre team for a tasting. They are all abuzz with wine enthusiasm following a visit from our teaching guru Len, and have been busy swotting for their WSET exams.
In the evening we had a leaving drinks for Jackie from finance who has been working with Rachel for nearly 4 years, and has decided to work as a bookkeeper slightly closer to home. Drinks on Rachel for 2 hours!
Half of the team then went off to the open air viewing of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ (they got quite badly rained on!), while Rachel and I took Steve and Dan to dinner at Universal – a very chic fusion restaurant with epic food, and eclectic (but very expensive) wines. Our evening was spiced up somewhat when we realised that George Michael and a coterie of friends (all male, since you were wondering) were sitting a couple of tables away.
Friday 10th Feb
We spent the morning talking, then Steve, Dan and I took a taxi to the airport to head to our 3 different destinations. I arrived at the airport at least an hour earlier than I needed to which was a stroke of luck – turns out that our plane was delayed at least 5 hours, but because I was there so early, I was able to be transferred to another flight. Thus salvaging my weekend.
Follow Justin on Twitter @Just1nHS.