What do you see when you look in the mirror?
Funnily enough, my uncle died quite recently. He was 87, and at the funeral, in the eulogy, it was mentioned how we are relatives of Captain James Cook*. Anyway, I had forgotten that, although years ago I looked in the mirror – at eight or nine years old – and thought, 'I do look like James Cook, actually.' He had long hair, like me, and the same sort of face shape. So who do I see when I look in the mirror? I'll say James Cook.
Were you always destined to be in the wine industry?
When I was about two, my mother apparently used to carry me around the winery and say, 'One day, you are going to be this great winemaker.' But it was really when I was seven and I sat on Len Evans' knee in the '60s and he asked what kind of wine I was going to make. I said, 'A yummy one.' The funny thing was he didn't ask me if I was going to be a winemaker.
The next year, I told my father that I'd worked out my life. I was going to go to McLaren Vale Primary (which I was already going to), then go to a college in Adelaide, then take a year off and work interstate, and then go to Roseworthy College. I said I'd work overseas for a while, then I would come back and work at the winery. And I said to him: 'And what will you do then, Dad?'
Who are you making wine for?
I make wine for me. Hopefully, my customers like it as well. I drink a lot of high-end European wines with age and I love the elegance and minerality, and that's what I try to produce. I want the big ripeness of Australia without the oiliness, with the mineral train and pretty tannins that will age gracefully.
What is it you dislike in a wine?
I don’t like oily reds, because it shortens the palate. And I don't like oaky reds. I'm really quite a Nazi when it comes to oak.
What music do you listen to in the winery?
Well, it depends what part of the winery you are in. The press crew like it pretty heavy. Down in the barrel shed, they are getting a bit older – they have been with us for a while – and they have started to play a bit more classical. It's pretty weird because they used to play heavier stuff. I'd be playing Pink Floyd the whole time. That, and a bit of Deep Purple. Lots of old classics.
Who are your heroes?
I think just honest wine producers. Producers that are not tricking up wine: not trying to get it overripe, not using oak chips or lots of oak. Keeping the wine true to terroir [so] it expresses the soil beautifully and has some length and fragrance about it. It leaves it very open. But I haven't got a hero as such, except for a lot of Barolo producers.
Where would you like to be buried? I've always said I want to be cremated. I just don't want to take up a bit of ground – it's just a useless waste of space. And I always said I wanted to be scattered over one of [our] top vineyards, the Amaranthine, which makes really purple, tannic, powerful and rich shiraz. Amaranthine means everlasting.
What would be the last wine you would drink?
A vintage 2050 Salon [Le Mesnil, Champagne] that had been aged on yeast lees for 50 years so. That means I've got to live for another 90 years.
What's the secret of a long life?
Well, everyone looks at me and says they can't believe I'm 50 and I just say back at them, 'Well, if you drink as much d'Arenberg as I have, you'll stay looking young as well.'
Do you have any regrets?
Maybe my regret is that I didn't start making the Dead Arm [shiraz] 10 years earlier. The first Dead Arm was 1993 and I started vintage as winemaker in 1984. I should have started straightaway, but it's pretty hard to say, 'This is the greatest vineyard I've got, so I'm going to start making a single-vineyard wine straightaway.'
If you weren't human, what would you have been?
A wild pixie, no doubt about it. But I did a personality test years ago and there were four questions. First question was, 'What's your favorite pet?' and mine was a jaguar. It's because it's cool, individual and fun, rules itself and it's big and strong. And afterwards I found out that is what you think of yourself. Then I got asked the question, 'What's your favorite wild animal?' Mine was a Tyrannosaurus rex, because I thought they have a cool smile, they're rulers and they're quite graceful. And that's apparently your ideal partner.
Another question was: 'If you're stuck in a room for the rest of your life and you're allowed only one thing, what would it be?' Mine was the "Encyclopaedia Britannica," which apparently is what you put into a relationship. So I apparently put knowledge into a relationship, which is a bit of a worry. And then the last one was: 'What do you see when you look at the sea?' I see a lot of aggression, big waves rolling in, it's all happening. And apparently that's how sex is for you.
What brings you the greatest happiness?
My greatest happiness is my three daughters. They're just so alive and fun and beautiful. And the fact that my youngest, who's eight, wants to become a winemaker is beautiful. She's not that dissimilar to me: she has a round face, is about the same build and drifts off into la-la land all the time. She has a huge imagination and I think that's a really positive thing, because you have to have a strong imagination to taste wine.
What do you think will make the world a better place?
If every person in the world never got upset, they were all cruisey and enjoyed life in a full way. And wine wasn't over-oaked.
What really matters?
That everyone drinks wine they really love, and they all have loads of fun.
* The 18th-century British navigator Captain James Cook claimed the east coast of Australia for the British Crown in 1770, naming it New South Wales.
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