When we think of the world’s finest wines, we often think of places like Bordeaux, Tuscany or Catalonia - where the same family has often run the same vineyard for centuries. However, with the perfect climate and growing conditions to produce a fine drop, New Zealand wines are increasingly becoming recognised on the international stage among some of the greats. We spoke with David Nash, director of NZIFF film A Seat At The Table, about his documentary that delves into the subject. Despite our famous Kiwi modest, the film proves that perhaps it’s time to start bragging…
Nexus: In this film, you interviewed a lot of renowned wine critics and winery owners - so how did this project differ from anything you’d done before? Did you face any big challenges in the process of creating the doco?
The biggest challenges really were probably financial, actually just how do we do this, how do we fund it, how do we pay to put it all together. It was self-funded, right the way through until the final stages of post-production, where we successfully got some funding from the New Zealand Film Commission feature film grant, which was fantastic - but yeah, that was probably the biggest challenge. I was really blown away by how supportive all the wineries were, all the international critics; some quite big players in the wine world were really free with their time and very open to helping New Zealand share their wine story. That was quite a humbling experience to see that these were just people who also loved wine and they really are excited about the future of our little industry here, and they want to do anything they can to support it. It was great.
Nexus: The film does focus on wine in particular, but it goes even further than that to show how our country is growing; we’re becoming a presence in the world and we’re showing people how special we are - so what are your thoughts on that, how are we being perceived?
I think the biggest asset that we’ve still got is our people, and I think everywhere that we went, as you find when you travel the world, a New Zealander had gone and worked at many of these vineyards throughout France. Many of these great critics or merchants had New Zealanders as employees, so they have this great connection to the country and they have a little bit of love for it, which I think is still one of our best assets. In the luxury market, we are gaining a lot of respect and there’s beginning to be a lot of understanding that what we can produce here is quite limited, and there is only going to be a certain amount of it, so I think the world is beginning to understand that, like a fine piece of art, you can only produce so many, and New Zealand’s beginning to fall into that category, which is quite exciting.
Nexus: It is true isn’t it, everywhere you go overseas as a Kiwi you’re received very well.
Absolutely! “Oh, you must know Tom from Dunedin,” “no, I don’t.” But you share two stories and it turns out you actually do know Tom from Dunedin.
Nexus: What is it, in your opinion, about having a glass of wine or attending a wine tasting, that is so special?
When you look past what’s in the glass, and that’s definitely what we’re kind of trying to open a window to, you really do get an appreciation for the years (or at least a year) of incredibly gruelling hard work, financial risk, stress, 24-hour around-the-clock winemakers going crazy trying to get this all done in one day. The amount of work and craft that’s gone into just creating something that ultimately is just a refreshing, enjoyable drink, is quite amazing and mind-blowing. I think when you do get some of those great wines of the world with a few years of age on them, it takes it to another level, which is where we’re kind of entering at the moment. So that’s definitely, for me, what it does, I just kind of get blown away with the amount of work that goes into something that, for the vast majority of the population, we just knock back and don’t really think about. Hopefully we’ve opened a bit of a window to all the incredible hard work that goes into creating this product.
Nexus: There is an elegance that comes with a fine wine that you just don’t get with a $9 bottle from Countdown.
Exactly, you can taste it. It’s really hard to describe but you can totally taste it. I was with someone the other day and we were drinking a really good - but fairly mass-produced - Marlborough wine, and we couldn’t really put our fingers on it but it just didn’t really have any soul to it. You do taste those wines that you know are made by people that have been hand-picked, handmade and a lot of work has gone into that, none of which they’ll recoup for selling the bottle for even a very high price. But you can taste the difference when someone’s put some love into something, I think. Wine is definitely a product that can translate, almost on a spiritual level.
Nexus: Can we bust a few myths for a minute here, namely what comes to mind is the pronunciation of the word Moët, and also what you’re meant to do at a wine tasting - can you give us a little expert run-through?
I think both will be received okay, I’m a ‘Mo-aye’ kind of guy, but I think it is traditionally ‘Mo-wett’ anywhere you go in the world. But then on to the wine tasting stuff, I think it’s a really personal kind of thing, but what you’re trying to do first is swirling a glass to release some aromatics from the wine, which is the volatile compounds which are going to come off that wine when you’re swirling it around, and then you’re sniffing the wine to get a sense of the aromatic profile, and then obviously you’re tasting the wine to see how that translates onto the palate. I think with wine tasting you can break it down into three really easy levels, where you can get primary, secondary and tertiary flavours, so primary all comes from the fruit, secondary all comes from the winemaker, and tertiary comes from bottle age. So very quickly you can evaluate what’s going on with that wine, you can go oh yeah, it’s really nice and fruity, what’s the winemaker done - well, he’s applied a bit of oak to it, or he’s turned it into a sparkling wine, and then if you begin to get more nuttier developed characters, you know that that bottle’s probably got a bit of age on it, so it’s quite easy when you break it down into those three aspects of tasting wine.
Nexus: What’s next after this?
That’s a good question [laughs]. There are a few ideas in the pipelines. I think what’s been great about this project is the huge learning curve from a production point of view but also the contacts that you develop along the way, both in the production side of things, but also in the distribution side of things, so as a result, even people that we’ve talked to that are or aren’t keen on distributing the film, they’re right and ready for the next one, and asking what’s next as well, so that’s quite a good position to be in. You’ve gone out and told a story and there’s some very big platforms and producers quite keen to know what you’re going to do next, so I better get onto it.
Nexus: One more question - if you had to pick a favourite wine, which would you choose?
I’ve answered this question a few times and said a Chardonnay, probably from Kumeu River, but after thinking a little bit more about it, I would probably say a great vintage, probably from the 70s, of Dom Perignon, Pol Roger, or something like that - depends, could probably also say Winston Churchill - because you can drink champagne at any of the time of the day. So if you had to drink one wine for the rest of your life it’s quite a versatile choice. No one looks strangely at you having a glass of champagne for breakfast, but if you had a honking great big red wine, they’d probably look at you a bit sideways. So I think one of the great vintages of old champagne, you’d be quite happy with that for the rest of your life.