One of the reasons I love my work at Raymond Chan Wine Reviews is that I find out to varying degrees the background to the people who send in the wines they have made for my review. In my reviews of the wines, I often also include in the introductory material something about the winemaker or proprietor of the property. In essence, it’s a part of their lives and reasoning for making the wines. It helps me to understand the philosophies involved, the background and how these people came to make wine, and also their intentions. It is often said that wines resemble their winemakers. It also helps me understand their wine, and how I should assess it. This process is a double-edged sword; while knowing the history and people behind a wine can give greater insights into how the wine shows, it can also impair and bias your judgements. There is the oft-told scenario that Chateau Lafite-Rothchild usually performs poorly in blind tastings as it seems lighter than other wines around it, but in an open tasting where the identity is known, tasters look for the elegance and finesse, and reward it for having these attributes. The case for knowing the background, or knowing nothing is not black and white, as any serious wine taster and drinker is aware of. In reality, judging wine demands blind tasting. Reviewing and enjoying wine benefits with knowing more about the background.
A Unique Involvement with Waiheke Island Wine
Clare Dunleavy’s book ‘Waiheke Island – A World of Wine’ is a book that I’d like to have written as it is what I do for a living in part. But I know I wouldn’t be able to match her command of language, balance of accessibility and expression of imagery provoking prose. And more importantly the amount of detail that only comes from knowing her subject intimately.
Clare is one of the Dunleavy family who figure as part of the fabric of the Waiheke Island wine scene. The Dunleavys established Te Motu in 1988, third after Goldwater and Stonyridge. Naturally, she worked on the family vineyard and at a number of other Waiheke Island wine producing properties in varied roles. She is currently the cellar door manager at the new Tantalus Estate. Clare is well-qualified in wine , studying under the WSET course and has worked in wine retail, and hospitality jobs, mainly on Waiheke Island. This involvement has given her the opportunity of knowing the people and their history in the Waiheke Island scene as very few would do. And also, her depth of knowledge and understanding ensures that the book is written with the detail for serious wine buffs.
The Waiheke Island Producer Profiles
The book is sub-titled ‘The People Behind the Labels’, and is a collection of profiles of 28 wine producers and their wineries, but with interviews with 47 people, though many of the interviews are with couples. It is obvious that Clare has interviewed them in person, and that she starts from an enviable position of already being familiar with them. Her interviewees tell their story: what they did before, maybe their family histories, how they became passionate about wine, and how they came to establish their venture and work on the island. Most tell the significant episodes and achievements, as well as some disappointments and failures, and where they are now. The stories they tell are personal and faithfully represent their culture, thinking and indeed being.
They are a fascinating group of interviews that are simply quite inspirational. The stories tell how people can arise beyond their situation and in many cases take themselves far past what they could have ever imagined they could do. They are stories of putting everything on the line to follow your passion. Few people actually do so, and it seems the wine industry attracts a far greater proportion of people who are willing to make such a commitment. It is this commonality that will ensure the book will appeal to a wider audience.
The Waiheke Island wine producers profiled and interviewed include the pioneers Goldwater and Stonyridge, the latest entrants, and both small and (relatively) big players. The diversity of backgrounds and their modus operandi are astoundingly different. Clare subtitles each interview with a wine related phrase which reflects their unique story. But all share to common goal of making high quality, individual and distinctive wine that will appeal to serious thinkers and drinkers of good wine.
The book should be repeated in each winegrowing district around the country, as much of our history is beginning to be lost, as pioneers in our relatively young industry are beginning to age and indeed pass away. Though some of the wine regions in the country are less than four decades old, there are countless interesting if not amazing tales that can be told. But alas, I don’t think there is a Clare Dunleavy type person in each region that could write a book as she has done on Waiheke Island.
The main criticism that I have is that the book does not give much detail of a chronology of events and the forces within and outside the wine industry which shaped what Waiheke Island is today for wine. The sub-title of the book excuses this however. A perspective of events would have given the book so much more. However to counter this criticism is the superb photography of the late Marti Friedlander who took the portrait images of the producers. As she always has done, she has captured the soul of her subjects. The photography adds to the beauty of the book.
I read the book with great interest. Knowing a number of the interviewed people, I was delighted with how the author had expressed their personalities as I had come to know them. But then Clare had even greater detail which gave a more complete picture. For the people I know less-well, I feel I can approach them and connect with them, even though I may never have met them before, such is Clare’s skill at representing her subjects so authentically.
This is a book that will appeal to many people on different levels. For the wine enthusiast, it is a welcome and unique addition, and as such, I highly recommend it.
Waiheke Island – A World of Wine, By Clare Dunleavy
Beatnik Publishing, Auckland, 2017, ISBN 978-0-9941-1383-3-0