Monthly Archives: August 2014

Shoot for the Moon

I once went to the toilet (not the most attractive start to a blog I admit) and on the back of the door was scratched ‘shoot for the moon, even if you miss you will land among the stars’. It is a kitch statement, but then we all know that I am a romantic and that kind of artsy empowerment statement would appeal!

This got me thinking about wine, obviously, and winemakers who have gambled everything in order to pursue their dreams, and won, due to a fearsome combination of talent, determination and hard work.

Michael Kerrigan was an Australian radiologist who discovered a passion for wine, re-trained as an oenologist and ended up at Howard park competing among the finalists in 2003 for the tital of winemaker of the year. However as pressure on him increased to triple production of the mad fish wines he began to indulge in that holy grail of dreams; owning your own winery and producing wines that you want to drink. He had always loved one particular vineyard in Margaret River’s Willyabrup region where he had sourced grapes from, and so, when it came up for sale he persuaded some friends to invest and in 2006 Hayshed hill winery was reinvented. Through hard graft and sheer bloody mindedness Michael has made Hayshed hill into a multi award winning, James Halliday 5 star winery. Not bad from the man in hospital scrubs.

Johnny Nel is a full time chartered surveyor, wine didn’t exactly run in the family. However, together with his wife Gael, they went out on a limb and bought a stunning 2ha farm in South Africa’s Helshoogte Pass, which they christened Camberley, boasting such illustrious neighbours as Thelema and Tokara. This was not a rich man’s recreational ambition; to have a winery you can boast to your friends about but actually have no involvement other than paying the bills. Johnny continued working full time and at night would moonlight as a winemaker, phoning friends for advise and very much learning on the job. Seemingly operating on less sleep than Winston Churchill, Johnny had embarked on a steep learning curve that would result in his wines receiving international acclaim. Not content with producing outstanding red wines, Johnny decided the challenge was not over, and along came a fortified Shiraz and a sparkling Shiraz. I was cellar rat there for the inaugural fortified vintage and recall a phone call to a highly regarded winemaker friend following fortification: Johnny ‘what is it meant to taste like now?’ Friend ‘like shit’. Johnny ‘thank god for that!’ It takes balls of steel, passion and a damn good sense of humour to achieve what Johnny has.

Kevin Grant was a zoologist from Malawi (a pretty cool job in itself) when he got bitten by the wine bug. He retrained at Elsenberg as a wine maker and before long was regarded as one of South Africa’s elite. It was at Hamilton Russell winery that he solidified his reputation as the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir guru. As he said however, it is one thing to jockey someone else’s horse to victory, it is quite another to jockey your own horse. And so when a breath-takingly beautiful piece of land presented itself, nestled against the Babylonstoren mountains in the cool climate Walker Bay region of South Africa, Kevin followed his heart and bought the property, so giving birth to Ataraxia. Kevin is producing some astounding wines, and is walking every step of the journey with the vines he planted. You can clearly taste his intense love and respect for his soils reflected in his wines.

So what can we learn from this? Work hard, dream big, but don’t delude yourself that dreams come true; dreams are forged on the back of blood, sweat, tears, and often a kindly bank manager.


What’s in a name?

I’ve been thinking a lot about names lately. Especially about what they mean and how they define you – and how changing a name really affects you.

You see, I recently got married and have decided to take my husband’s name. So I am no longer a Harrison, instead I have moved down the alphabet to become a Symington. A Symington de Macedo to be precise – yes, I have what seems to be the longest surname ever. At the time it felt like such a simple decision to change my name, but what does it really mean?

In wine terms, name is king. Whether it’s the actual brand name or simply the grape variety or region on the label, it defines what you are getting inside the bottle. Ok, there are always exceptions to the rule (and particularly if you ask us wine geeks) – but in the most general terms, everyone knows what you mean by Jacobs Creek, Sauvignon Blanc or Rioja and knows what to expect when you open the bottle.

So where does that leave me? Do names define people in the same way? And if so, will changing my name affect people’s perception of me?

I was at a primary school where everyone was seated alphabetically in the classroom according to their surname. So, now I wouldn’t be among my friends in the Hs but would find myself further back in the Ss. At first this doesn’t sound like a big change, but then when you consider that my friends throughout my school life predominantly had surnames beginning with H, F or J, I wonder what different influences on my life people with R, S or T surnames might have been and how that might have affected who I have become now.

Of course, later in life friendships aren’t predicated alphabetically and so changing my name won’t affect that, but perhaps it might affect other things?

Symington de Macedo is quite a change from my old common-or-garden English surname. Now it speaks of an exotic mix of Scottish and Portuguese – something I am anything but. Will that make me a surprise when people meet me – like ordering a bottle of Alvarinho but when it turns up it is actually Chardonnay? Of course, in our profession it is the Symington part of the name that grabs attention – and therefore my now-relationship to one of the most famous port families. So I have to wonder, will this association be a help or a hindrance for me? Will I be able to build my own reputation, or will Miguel’s family’s reputation always precede my own?

In wine terms, brand names very rarely change. But there are a few examples of it happening – probably one of the most famous being the New Zealand winery Montana which rebranded as Brancott Estate four years ago. It had operated under Brancott in the USA (Montana of course being the Big Sky state) and so Pernod Ricard, the brand owner, decided to rebrand in their other markets so they would just have one brand globally. It must have been a huge undertaking for Pernod Ricard, and I’m sure sales must have suffered in the immediate aftermath but they did it anyway and I am sure in the long term it has been of benefit.

And so if a global giant like Pernod Ricard can do it, then so can I. There’s a lot of form filling out and phone calls to make ahead of me before I am officially Emma Symington de Macedo on my passport, driving licence and everywhere else, but I’ll get there soon enough. And then I’ll see if life down the back of the classroom is any different from what it was up front.

Emma (Symington de Macedo)