The days of a “job for life” have gone. However, individuals and traditional crafts often both benefit from the positive effects career switching can bring. Here, then, is a story about folk who have done just that – on opposite sides of the planet – successfully blending life experience with a deep respect for nature and, literally, bottling the results. One is Glaswegian David Levin and his award winning winery in France and the others are the Wilkinsons from the brilliant Misha’s Vineyard in Central Otago, New Zealand.
Eschewing the safe middle class career to which his upbringing pointed, Levin – to his parents’ alarm – entered the hospitality industry. Within twenty years, however, he had risen from commis waiter in Glasgow’s Central Hotel to proprietor of the Capital Hotel & Restaurant in London’s Knightsbridge – one of the first “boutique” hotels.
Supplying his growing hotel and restaurant empire, led Levin to acquire several sites near Tours on the Loire to which he and his Australian wife, Lynne, have applied New World wine-making techniques – and an emphatic disdain for chemical dominated production processes. Few can surely argue with their strategy when they experience the quality of 2009 Levin Sauvignon Blanc (£12.15 at l’Art du Vin with whom the Levins work in partnership in Scotland). Behind the vibrant lemon and lime flavours (and amazing freshness for four year old wine) there is a complex and appealing orange centred depth that complements that zinginess perfectly.
Venturing into the unusual world of oaked sauvignon, Levin’s 2011 Mister L Sauvignon Blanc (£26.30), spent nine months in barrels, giving the wine attractive influences of vanilla and banana to work alongside its traditional, gentle, lemon fruit. To go with the “Mister L”, Lynne Levin masterminds the 2010 Madame L (also £26.30), made from gamay – but, like that oaked sauvignon, only in the best years. This has a lovely fruity nose, leading into rounded cherries and raspberries but nicely embellished with lively acidity and spiciness.
While Levin made his name in hospitality, Misha and Andy Wilkinson forged careers in Singapore’s IT sector, working with companies like Dell and Intel. Back in Andy’s native New Zealand, they found a location that grape consultant Richard Smart called “one of the best Pinot Noir vineyard sites” he had ever seen. Decanter magazine now ranks them as one of New Zealand’s top 20 producers, a huge achievement given that the country has 700 wineries. Edinburgh’s Henderson Wines and The Fine Wine Company seem to stock their range
“The secret to our wines is the vineyard – and how winemaker Olly Masters thoughtfully lets the land express its purity,” Andy told me, and that expressiveness is on show in his 2009 “The High Note” Pinot Noir (£25.49), which is mellow and light but pleasingly spicy, with slightly-jammy raspberry fruit and nicely balanced earthy touches.
Their splendidly aristocratic 2010 “Verismo” Pinot Noir (£37.99) has even more depth and a hugely-impressive structure behind its cherry – and vaguely raspberry – fruit, which is neatly offset by well-judged savoury influences. Andy thinks this is his best Pinot Noir – and who am I to argue?
Misha’s Vineyard also makes aromatic whites, including the 2012 “Limelight” Riesling (£19.99), which is balanced and subtle wine, with just a whisper of typical riesling kerosene on the nose. On the palate, however, there are delightful lime flavours, shrewdly freshened up with an attractive acidic edge.
2011 Les Andides Saumur Blanc: Loire Valley, France: 12.5 per cent: A lovely, fresh and textured white, with ripe red apple flavours, a slightly spicy backdrop, honeyed finish, gentle acidity and a golden hue. This part of the Loire excels with chenin blanc and here the careful pressing techniques and stainless steel fermentation tanks have very successfully maximised the freshness this variety offers. (£7.19 – down from £8.99 until 20 May – at Waitrose)
2012 Alianca Vista: Beiras, Portugal: 13.5 per cent: A blend of Tinta-Roriz (aka Tempranillo), Touriga Nacional and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes produces a full-bodied yet soft and smooth wine with limited tannins and a good acidic edge. Cherry and mint aromas mingle with its vanilla backdrop and add extra variety to the wine’s appealing, plummy depth. (£8.50 at WoodWinters)
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