I must admit that when I saw that this autobiography of Allan Scott was written with Eric Arnold, I was somewhat put-off in buying it. Eric Arnold’s book ‘First Big Crush’ published in 2010 recounted his experiences of vintage in Marlborough while based at Allan Scott Wines. Unfortunately I found his writing a little too puerile, bordering on misogynistic and revealing too much dirty laundry. There will be others who share my opinion, but I can say that Allan Scott’s book has nothing of that, and that it is written as though Allan is speaking directly to you. For those who already know Allan Scott in any small way, I can say that it faithfully represents his words, thoughts and feelings, and that is of a genuinely kind and modest human being.
A Man at the Beginning of the Marlborough Wine Industry
With the benefit of hindsight, most observers and participants in the New Zealand wine industry will give considerable credit to Allan Scott for his role in the development and growth of Marlborough wine to what it is today. Marlborough accounts for over two-thirds of the country’s grapevine plantings and closer to three-quarters of its production. Yet Allan is remarkable modest and frank about his involvement, as described by the sub-title of the book “a quintessentially Kiwi story of an accidental wine industry trailblazer”. He backs this up with the statement “I have never claimed to be the first in Marlborough wine, nor have I ever claimed to be the best”.
Allan begins his story from his birth in a town called Hawarden about 100 km north of Christchurch, and recounts how life on the Canterbury family farm were the formative years to enable him to move forward and take opportunities in his later years. His meeting and relationship with Cathy, to be his future wife is also brought into the story early, as Allan considers her to be the greatest influence and support in his career and life.
Following a number of years travelling and working primarily as a shearer overseas, Allan and Cathy moved to Marlborough in 1972 to work and live off land allocated to Cathy by her father. It was in 1973 that the Yukich brothers Frank and Mate of Montana Wines acquired large tracts of land to plant vineyards, in a region deemed unsuitable for vines. Scott gives credit to people such as John Marris, Jim Hamilton, Clive Drummond, Dick Simpson and Wayne Thomas for the actual work in establishing the first vineyards in Marlborough. These were the men that brought Allan Scott into the heart of the activity. Not a lot went to plan, but what they learned formed the basis of the future.
Montana’s rival Corbans quickly followed Montana’s footsteps, buying land in the Rapaura district. Allan’s reputation as a pragmatist and hard-working man who made things happened meant that he was head-hunted by Corbans to establish their vineyards in 1980. With the job came promotion up the corporate ladder and all the politics that are part and parcel with it. During this time, Allan and Cathy were growing personally, starting a family, contract growing from their vines planted in 1975, establishing more vineyards, and becoming involved with new players such as Cloudy Bay and Grove Mill. Eventually the conflicts of interest took their toll and an acrimonious departure from Corbans eventuated in 1988.
The Scotts on Their Own
Following Corbans and continuing to grow contact fruit, Allan and Cathy established their own label Allan Scott Wines in 1990. They joined a small group of independent winegrowers who had very good reputations and success in wine shows around the world. Life as an independent was extremely difficult, especially in financial terms, and the formation of a collaboration company to be named ‘Appellation’ seemed an ideal way to progress. However, almost immediately, the difficulties of such an organisation became manifest, and Allan and Cathy worked hard to extricate themselves from this venture. Accountant John Buchanan played a major role in this work, and soon after they joined forces with him in another business venture. Eventually, this partnership also dissolved.
The lesson learnt was that by being truly independent was the only way that Allan and Cathy could control their destiny. They changed their name to Allan Scott Family Winemakers, this signalling the involvement of their children Victoria, Josh and Sarah. From the initial production of 1,000 cases, the company produces 120,000 cases, and the company is multi-faceted running a restaurant, owning a vineyard in Central Otago, and creating Moa beer on the way. The future looks very bright as the next generation has taken on the responsibility of running the company. Allan and Cathy are clearly very proud of the family and where they are now.
Insights to History and Personalities
Throughout the book, Allan recounts many of the pivotal moments of the Marlborough wine scene. They are his personal recollections, and of course show his impressions, and maybe biases. Also throughout the book are stories of many of the wonderful characters and personalities of not only the Marlborough wine industry, but that of New Zealand. The book has a number of asides titled “I Digress…” where Allan recounts amusing incidents, many about himself. Here, he shows his down-to-earth nature and humility. The book is lavishly illustrated with many photographs, a good proportion historical, and others of Allan Scott Family Winemakers as it is today.
As stated at the beginning of this review, the book is an easy read, as though Allan is talking to you in person. Allan provides so much detail and many anecdotes, while revealing much of his and his wife Cathy’s thinking. Their lives are bared to some degree, and the reader leaves with a sense of admiration for their toils. Allan would say he was in the right place at the right time, but in reality, much of the success of Marlborough’s wine industry can be attributed to his and Cathy’s input.
Marlborough Man, By Allan Scott with Eric Arnold
Harper Collins Publishers, Auckland, 2016, ISBN 978-1-77554-057-1