10 thought-provoking questions & answers from Central Otago, New Zealand. Meet Nigel Greening of Felton Road.
1. What is your most important wine experience?
Probably the few days that Central Otago winemakers spent as guests of the Burgundy winemakers in 2017 to celebrate our young people’s exchange programme. Overwhelming camaraderie, goodwill and great wines.
2. Have you made a ‘wine pilgrimage’ and if so, where and why?
So many, far too many to pick out individual places. It is an important part of learning to be in a place and enjoy the generosity of the local winemakers to offer their perspective and their wares. Every year there would be at least two such trips. Burgundy and the Mosel are regular trips, others less frequent. So many still to do: South America, Okanagan, Tasmania and Margaret River all come to mind as overdue a visit.
3. Who do you prefer to drink wine with?
Other producers. It doesn’t matter so much where and who, there is a different bond between those that make than there is with the rest of the wine world. There is no pretension and no hierarchy when it comes down to vignerons sharing a bottle or showing a barrel. We all recognise that making wine has highs and lows, fears and exultations. Really good producers are unnervingly honest about it.
4. What would your best recommendations be if someone came to visit your area?
Don’t rush it! You can’t understand the wines of any place unless you get to understand the place. You need to climb up into our mountains, walk our rivers, see the incredible night sky, appreciate the emptiness of being in so much space with so few people. Visit the small places: Clyde, say. And savour the coffee and the beer. We have some of the best of both on the planet. Wine isn’t the only great drink around!
5. Who do you dream to work with and why?
I don’t think I have a bucket list work experience, probably getting a bit old for that! I’ve been incredibly lucky to spend time with so many heroes from the wine world and learned so much from their generosity. There are a few no longer with us that would have been amazing: Len Evans, or maybe Henri Jayer. But I can’t possibly complain, there have been more great opportunities in my short career than I could have ever dreamed of.
6. Who is or was your mentor and why did you choose them?
Sir George Fistonich. George has had an incredible career from the struggles of a pioneer up to running a staggeringly impressive operation, currently listed as the third most admired wine brand on earth! George is straightforward, humble, frugal, as befits a tough immigrant heritage, loves a good glass and has always made a lot of time to share ideas. The winery is right by Auckland Airport, so easy to visit and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve missed a plane because George has had one more wine he wanted to show me. He’s part of that generation of doing it from nothing, which we’ll probably never see again.
7. What motivates you?
Knowing that I’ll never taste all the good bottles out there and that we’ll never make a perfect wine. This game runs for ever.
8. What is the biggest challenge you face today?
Time. I’m coming up to my 70th birthday and have at least 30 years of vineyard trials and plans to run right now. So mortality would be the big one. Luckily I do have children, which is nature’s answer to the mortality thing. The biggest challenge the fine wine world faces is this transition from making a beverage to finding yourself part of wine as a currency, a trade, profit opportunity and silly pricing that bears no relation to what is in the glass. I grew up being able to buy and open a few of the great bottles. That has gone now and even the good bottles are getting priced into stupidity. I’d like to make wine trading illegal. Stupid, I know, but it is just a drink… a glass of pleasure and laughter… never something to show off about or sell on at a personal profit (merchants excepted, of course).
9. What is your greatest achievement?
Not going broke! Which, believe me, is surprisingly easy to do as a vigneron.
10. And now?
When I’m not getting engrossed in wine I make guitars and occasionally furniture. Nice to have a use for my hands rather than my head.