Timing is the well-spring of opportunity.
My generation, the “Boomers” have enjoyed pretty good timing and I know I have, and I am grateful.
My career as a vigneron began with my training in the later 60’s and early 70’s, paralleling the birth and development of the modern Australian wine matrix. I have been part of that development every inch of the way. Timing has provided me a unique opportunity.
When I began work at Thomas Hardy’s in 1970, the Australian wine community was very small and was owned by the traditional wine families. There were just a few hundred wine producers compared to more than 3,000 now and only about half of Australia’s current 65 registered wine regions existed as grape and wine producing regions.
The cohort of fine wine consumers globally was very small. They virtually all knew one another.
Importantly, in the 60’s and 70’s, the great chateaux and wine properties of France and elsewhere were struggling to stay viable because of the lack of demand for their products. Lack of demand leads to low pricing and the inability to invest in improving the quality. Because of cost cutting and striving for higher yields, the great wines of France were much more variable and of lower quality than they are today, except in the great vintages. The cohort of knowledgeable consumers who were interested to buy old and great vintages of first growth Bordeaux and Grand Cru Burgundy was miniscule compared to the international host today and they were not super wealthy wine trophy hunters as many are today.
Consequently, through my early wine career, prices at auction and direct from the properties for the great vintages stretching back to the 19th century were a fraction of today’s prices and they were available.
I don’t do yachts, racehorses or gambling. But I did buy a lot of old Bordeaux growth and Burgundy Cru wine from the great properties and great vintages prior to 1990. Demand and prices began to rise exponentially from the late 80’s on and the trend has not stopped.
I probably should have cellared, not consumed many of those great wines and I would be a lot wealthier now but not nearly as steeped in the ethos of quality that dominates my vigneron life.
I was also lucky for the company I kept, Len Evans, James Halliday, Rudi Komon and Max Lake to name some of the wine collectors and appreciators, sharers of great bottles and incomparable knowledge.
So just to make you jealous but not to overegg the pudding, ‘21 Latour, ’29 Bollinger, ‘45 Lafite, ‘49 Margaux, ‘ 61 Palmer (my best wine ever), ’61 La Chapelle, ‘78 DRC Montrachet (my best white wine ever), these were high on the list of the many great vintages of great vineyards I had the privilege of drinking (not tasting) and most many times alongside other similarly rare great wines.
For a young Australian vigneron this was eye opening stuff. For me the all-consuming question became how in the world do we in Australia, make wines of that inherent quality, that great ability to age with profound complexity and sublime texture and structure?
That challenge still dominates my thoughts after I have moved onto lesser but still great wines other than the Bordeaux first growths and DRC Burgundies, now beyond my budget except on very special occasions or because of the generosity of friends.
I still buy and drink, never sell, my fair share of Bordeaux, now Cos d’Estournel, Montrose, Palmer, Lynch Bages and Figeac and from Burgundy, Rousseau, de Vogue, Mugneret and Blain Gagnard among others. The high demand for these wines means prices are escalating but so is the quality as producers reinvest in quality improvement.
Bordeaux and Burgundy remain an inspiration for me, not to slavishly copy, not possible anyway, but to produce Australian wines with the same inherent ageability and quality.
I am unashamedly a great fan of these two wonderful French wine regions but so is a large proportion of a very big cohort of fine wine drinkers around the world.