"I grew up in Central Otago on a fruit orchard and when I was a young kid I was surrounded by sweet sherry. My grandparents would always have a sweet sherry before dinner, and my parents would crank into the Miami wine cooler – it’s a New Zealand product that was a sweet, spritzy wine, really cheap, in a cask. It was trashy, but it’s a quintessential New Zealand thing, along with jandals [flip-flops] and the Buzzy Bee [a children’s toy].
My most memorable wine experience stems from that. I was at university and a group of us we were traveling back for the semester. We stopped for fish and chips and cracked open a bottle of Cold Duck, which was made by Montana [now Brancott Estate] back in the day and then re-released in the late '90s. It was more or less the bits and pieces at the bottom of the tank that they put together and bottled. I thought it was delicious.
I was studying biochemistry and law at university and I didn’t have a massive passion for either of these things, [but] I remember tasting Cold Duck and thinking it was great. It made a moment something special. Wine is really cool like that. It’s not necessarily about the wine, it’s what the wine does for a group of friends.
I wasn’t a massive wine drinker, but after that experience I started drinking more and more wine. I got into the five- and ten-dollar sparkling wines; pretty classy.
When I went to university they had moved the drinking age up to 20, so for most of my university life I was underage. So, whenever we had a wine it was pretty memorable because it was a bit naughty and a bit risky.
I don’t think they make Cold Duck anymore and I haven’t seen it again since. If I had it now, it would be pretty miserable, wouldn’t it?
The next moment that I really remember with higher-end products was after I had done a couple of vintages. We had a bottle of Champagne, which, for me, was an amazing thing then. We walked up the Wither Hills in Marlborough with a group of friends and we sat drinking this bottle of bubbly. Now I’m a total addict of Champagne. And at the moment I’m learning to do sabrage. I’ve done it about three or four times now, so I feel like a mini-expert."
As told to Rebecca Gibb