Weekly Interview: Mitch Taylor

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 08-26-2011

Each week, as regular readers know, Terroirist poses 16 questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Mitch Taylor, the managing director of Wakefield Wines in South Australia’s Clare Valley.

Wakefield’s story begins in 1969, when Mitch’s grandfather — Bill Taylor — purchased 178 hectares by the Wakefield River in Auburn. He had been working as a wine merchant in Sydney, and he fell in love with Bordeaux’s wine. He thought Australia could produce wines of equal quality, so chose the site because of  its soil — red brown loam over limestone — and its cool climate.

That first year, the family planted its very first Cabernet Sauvignon. And just four years later, in 1973, their inaugural vintage won the Royal Adelaide Wine Show’s trophy for the best red wine.

Mitch joined the family business in 1988, focusing first on the business side and later on the winemaking side. In 2000, he was appointed managing director, and now overseas all aspects of the business.

Check out our interview with Mitch below the fold…

What’s open in your kitchen right now?

A bottle of Wakefield St Andrews Shiraz 2006. This wine recently picked up a trophy at the 2011 Ultimate Wine Challenge in New York and is drinking just beautifully.

How did you decide to pursue a career in wine?

I guess you could say wine is in my blood. My grandfather and father were involved in the wine industry as Sydney hoteliers in the 1950s and 1960s. During the 1950s our family formed a company called South Australian Wine Distributors which bottled and distributed wines for the Clare Valley co-operative. So in 1969, when my family purchased a holding of 178 hectares on the banks of the Wakefield River, in the Clare Valley (South Australia) to establish a winery, we were well aware of the region’s potential for fine winemaking.

I’ve always been incredibly passionate about wine and our family business, so it was always my intention in continue in the footsteps of my grandfather and father.

A Kangaroo helping in the vineyard.

How did you learn to make wine?

Formally, I learned about winemaking through a Bachelor of Science in Oenology at Charles Sturt University, which I graduated from in 1995. But I was intimately involved in our winemaking before I undertook this study, having undertaken vintages at our winery between 1989-1997 as a winemaker. I am still very hands on with our winemaking team.

How do you spend your days off?

I enjoy playing tennis, golf and dining with friends and family at home or a special restaurant.

Who are your favorite winemakers in history?

My father, Bill Taylor and his brother John were inspired by the great old world winemakers of Europe and in particular, Château Mouton Rothschild. It was this long-held fascination for these wines that inspired our family’s first foray into winemaking.

I am greatly inspired by other family Australian wineries. We are a member of a collective called “Australia’s First Families of Wine” along with eleven other great Australian families wineries — and I must say I find their stories and wines truly inspiring. These are families which pioneered the Australian wine industry and collectively have more than 1200 years of winemaking experience between them.

What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?

There are many exciting new winemakers in Australia who making outstanding wines, but I am most proud and excited about the winemaking team we have here at Wakefield.

What mailing lists, if any, do you purchase from?

I am currently on the Wendouree mailing list, which is a small producer also from the Clare Valley in South Australia.

What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?

There have certainly been some outstanding wines, but I think our 2001 Wakefield St. Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon, which won The Warren Winiarski International Trophy for the Best Cabernet Sauvignon and the trophy for Best Single Estate Wine at the 2005 International Wine and Spirits Competition, was exceptional. It was of special significance, as my grandfather first established our winery with the ambition of making wines which could stand proudly beside the great wines of the world.

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar?  The most expensive?

The oldest bottle I have in my cellar is probably an old Greek wine from the 19th century. While the most expensive would have been a bottle of Château Pétrus or Château Margaux.

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?

An aged Cabernet Sauvignon and a young, fresh Riesling.

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?

Knowing the best moment to pick our fruit — and after that protecting and preserving the quality of the fruit that has been provided by our vineyards.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world — other than your own?

Alsace.

Is beer ever better than wine?

A beer can definitely be enjoyable but I think it lacks the complexity and the sense of place.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I have worked as a Shephard and a grape grower in the Promised Land in Israel.

If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?

I would probably be working in the arts.

How do you define success?

Success is changing the way people think and approach something. The screw-cap revolution is an example of an idea which originated at a Clare Valley winemakers’ meeting. This has certainly improved the quality of cellaring wine around the world.

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