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Q&A with James Millton, Millton Vineyards, Gisborne

19. 01. 2017

“You may think you’re standing on dirt, but it’s really the rooftop of another Kingdom!”

What is the most memorable wine you’ve tasted?

I very seldom taste wine as drinking is my preferred option and in terms of a memorable wine this is even more difficult as every wine has a memory and many are just plain overworked and boring and technical. So a memorable wine could be the vintage 2004 Tattinger Comte de Champagne in magnum we enjoyed at Christmas last year

Which wine would you most like to taste?
Of particular interest presently are the wines from the Loire being presented by the younger next generation winegrowers from Chinon and Savennieres. Baptise Cousin and Virginie Joly. I drank Le Montrachet from DRC when Aubert de Villaine was out here several years ago and held a masterclass at Tony Astle’s restaurant in Parnell. It was amazing. In trying to secure a bottle or two for future reference I discovered that at $83 per millilitre it was a little above my R&D budget let alone imbibing budget, but I think this would be the wine I would like to taste, again.

What was your epiphany wine?
1959 Moulin Touché Anjou Moulleaux. I bought a selection of these wines from this very old estate in Thorace in the Loire Valley. They were generally aged in deep cellars for a long time before being put on the market. So in 1984, our first vintage, we were pressing the last of our Chenin Blanc and while standing around the press having dinner I opened this bottle and went!!! Is this what Chenin has the potential to be. And so the journey started.

What do you think is the best wine trend?

I think that wine has now started on its biological trend, leaving nature to look after the chemistry. So phenolic ripeness is almost more important than sugar and acid. Out of this the vinosity and texture of wine, the longevity and colour of wines is increasing to the amusement of the eye and palate. Out of this the sommelier and astute wine service advocates find great joy in the presentation and the reflection in the glass.

What do you think is the worst wine trend?
Artificial interference in the wine post pressing which includes cross flow filtration and reverse osmosis and other stuff I don’t even have any resonance with. This would be encapsulated in these new low (ered) alcohol wines which are called “lifestyle” I believe.

What is the worst mistake you’ve made in the wine industry?

While these musings are for a family blog and family is all about the collective strength of individuals I would motion that if it could be considered a mistake was, for me, calling our wine brand after my own family name, Millton. The sense of attachment comes very strongly when this is established and therefore the demands on your heart and soul are demanding notwithstanding the ability to diversify and celebrate creativity from an artistic sense. To elaborate this for us in wine terms is that when establishing another brand, such as Crazy by Nature, to enter into another segment of the market, part of the strength of the new entry is the provenance of the person creating the consumer product. So it is kind of hard to break free. Something completely different to stay virgin.

How does your winery crew celebrate end of vintage?
I always think jokingly that the last day of vintage is the saddest day of the year because we have worked hard all year to achieve what we have in the glass, and now must wait another 365 days for the same experience, next time. Vintage is a lot about what is on the plate, on the table and in the glass. Every night therefore there is something to celebrate but the last night there is nothing like a whole lamb cooked on some vine pruning’s together with a collection of great wines, a keg of beer and a guitar. Most of the people who help us these days are from overseas so they generally prepare their favourite dish as well. But the press still needs cleaning at some stage during the evening.

Which wine person – living or dead – would you most like to dine with?

I don’t want to dine with a single person per se so I really like the Family of Twelve gatherings when we eat and drink together. I guess if it had to be one person, it would need to be Annie, my wife and business partner, and wine person.

What is your favourite wine book?
Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch.

What does it mean to you to be a member of The Family of Twelve?
At every rung within the F12 vinous ladder there is a sense of kinship, a shoulder and an ear to call upon when needed. So it was an honour to be included from the get go. As we get older I wonder that the familiness is changing somewhat as the succession plans materialise and business prowess consolidates as the world changes, and maybe this adds a greater degree of wisdom to the advice given.

What is your most treasured possession?
My secateurs

What is your favourite journey?
In the hills of Sikkim perhaps, in Autumn. Closer to home the 56 footsteps from my back door to the winery, each morning and evening.

What is your favourite city/country to visit outside of NZ and why?

Tokyo because of the food, culture, order and the respect for the fact that they love our work and philosophy as well.

What is your favourite restaurant in the world?

It’s hard to pick just one when you are in the hotspot game often but most recently Franklin in Hobart.

What is your favourite hotel in the world?
The East India Club in London. It’s not really a hotel but a sanctuary of antiquity in St James’s square so far from the madding crowd, yet so close.

What is the quality you most admire in a man/woman?

The warmth and strength of their handshake, and a fragrant cheek.

What was your favourite childhood meal?

Baked eggs.

What is your favourite non-wine drink?
Hot water, turmeric, lemon, ginger and a spoon of honey from a top beehive.

What is your favourite movie?
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel… yes! Yawn I know but I saw it when it first came out.

What is your favourite book?
The Dalai Lama’s Cat by David Michie

Do you play a musical instrument, if so what?

I played piano before taking up the secateurs.

What is your favourite music artist/album?

Anything from Buddha Bar but then Leonard Cohen hit a chord when I was out in the vines the other day.

If you were to be reincarnated as an animal which would it be?
For those who understand reincarnation we have to respect the value of happiness, which is without suffering, in order to return into higher realms without attachment or aversion to things near and far. So if it was to be an animal and it was a fantail bird I would feel blessed. We have a flow form in our garden. It’s like a cascade of water and its there to bring energy into the water and improve the air, light and warmth ethers. It attracts many insects and especially birds who come by to bathe. The fantails just go crazy when this fountain is flowing and their chatter is almost communicable as if they are saying something.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

To still be here today.

Which phrase or word do you most over use?
Excellent. We farm with our head, our heart and our hands. Farming Ease and fighting DIS-Ease

What is your motto?
Our family crest says Sine Fraude Fides which I think is Latin for “Honour without fraud”

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

That it is without suffering.

James Millton, Artisan Winegrower and Proprietor Millton Vineyards, Gisborne

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