Australia's fast car of wine argument, Jane Ferrari, is back in the Bay for the Colliers International Grape Debate. The Yalumba Wines staffer - and star of last year's event - chats to Mark Story ahead of this weekend's donnybrook at Te Awa Winery, where debaters will contest the moot - "Is it the product or the pitch?"
How did you get involved with the grape debate?
Our man that runs Negociants NZ - Clive Weston - is great mates with Mac [John] Macpherson, the owner of Advintage, who have been a very staunch Yalumba supporter for as long as I have worked for the family. I jumped at the chance to be involved. I'd never represented my country in any competitive way, shape or form ... so it was always green (and gold!) for go my end.
How does Yalumba differ to wine's estate models in NZ?
Firstly, I was around in 1988 when the massive shift happened at Yalumba - there were over 50 extended family members after four generations that had an equal share in the winery business, and one family - mum, dad and the two brothers that are the current owners - Robert & Sam - borrowed a bomb from the ANZ bank at 12.5 per cent and bought everyone else out. Then interest rates went to 21 per cent overnight, and we were all called to a meeting with the family in the bottling warehouse one Friday afternoon, and Robert got up and outlined what had to happen to take the business apart, fix each part and reassemble it.
They asked us all to consider a four year wage freeze to make it happen. And he promised that if we made it through the financial crisis, that Yalumba would be family-owned as long as he was upright. And we voted with show of hands, and took the wage freeze, and here we are this year, about to celebrate our 170th year - consecutively - in the same family's hands. You don't often get to be part of something like this.
We have our own constructional cooperage, which is evident in the glass, especially with the big solid reds, as they're definitely in the "powerful with elegance" world.
Rob instigated a huge shift in our grapevine nursery where we revolutionised what was going on with grafting, bringing the omega-style machines into Australia. We graft over one million grapevines for the local industry each year, and have imported several table grape varieties from the USA for our local grape growers to diversify to more profitable business.
We both have unusual surnames, but yours is much faster. Surely a Ferrari was always destined for greatness?
Not sure about that, I've always said that my model has always been about comfort, not speed. No, it's always been pretty hard graft for me, and I've tried to make the most of the opportunities that I've been given. I think the trick is to realise when you're on a good thing - like the role that I currently have for the Hill Smith family at Yalumba - and don't waste a minute. That's why as soon as my schedules are set, I build in the treats - West End and Broadway theatre if I'm anywhere near London or New York, a weekend football game at Brentford in London, a Yankees game anywhere, or on the odd moment that you have off whilst travelling - the really good bits that can come with the travelling grind.
Dispel the three biggest myths about Aussie wine.
* It's not all about big jammy, over ripe, high-alcohol reds, and in fact, if the wine is balanced, then alcohol levels shouldn't come into the conversation.
* The industry isn't all about no winery, no winemaker "ghost" brands, and "south eastern Australia" isn't a winemaking region.
* We're not the "new world". We've had grapevines destined for winemaking in this country since at least 1833, and because of happy historical accident, we're actually the custodians of a pretty unique viticultural treasure trove.
And your all-time favourite Kiwi wine?
Anything that Sam Neill is pouring!
* For tickets see eventfinda.co.nz.