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.