More about Robert Joseph than you want or need to know

When I was in Hong Kong for Vinexpo, I was asked if I would mind being interviewed by a delightful local journalist called Robby Nimmo. It’s always interesting to see what other people do with your words – especially when you’ve interviewed as many people as I have.
Here, for what it’s worth and for anyone who is interested, is what I appear to have said.

My life: Robert Joseph
The British winemaker talks to Robby Nimmo
about fakes, grapes, writing and wrath
· 

CELLARS MARKET My parents owned a hotel in Sussex
(in southern England) and I started my career there. I was not
a great chef: I got bored cooking the same thing twice, and I
was a clumsy and forgetful waiter and barman. I got interested
in the cellar at a time when Britain was going into the
common market, and having to introduce European labelling
rules. Before that, the mid-1970s in the UK was the “Wild
West”. You still had people taking wine from the same vat and
selling it as Nuits-Saint-Georges, Beaujolais and Chateauneuf-
du-Pape. Then, suddenly, Beaujolais had to come from
Beaujolais and taste like Beaujolais.
SOLVING BURGUNDY After we sold the family hotel, I ran
away to Burgundy with the then love of my life – she was a fair
few years older than me and, in France, that kind of romantic
liaison is more common. I chose this region because it seemed
the most complicated. There were plenty of books about
Bordeaux but none about Burgundy. I just wanted to solve the
puzzle. That’s been my theme ever since. I starved and taught
English. It was a good place to starve, and my six-month stint
turned into six years. I then met a man at a cellar door event
who asked me if I wanted to edit his new wine magazine in
London. I 
could barely afford the petrol to drive home.
NEVER MIND THE BOTTLES We wanted to be the Top
Gear
 of wine magazines. We put Gorbachev, Reagan and
Thatcher’s Spitting Image puppets on the cover holding
glasses of wine. We were trying to be punk in our own way.
Part of our 
punkiness was to not focus on France. We were
unashamedly 
poster children for Australian, New Zealand
and Chilean wine, 
as well as the lesser regions of Europe. I 
wrote about wine for The Daily Telegraph (newspaper) for 
14 years, and I wrote a couple of dozen books. The first was 
a quirky book called The Wine Lists, which was published by 
the Guinness Book of Records. It was well-timed, in 1985, 
when people wanted to discover wine. It covered things like
“What’s the furthest that you could fire a champagne cork?” 
and the first nude wine tasting.
DRINKING UP THE COMPETITION In 1986, the
magazine held a tasting of English wines against those from 
the rest of the world, and it somehow became the world’s 
biggest wine competition, with over 10,000 entries. The first 
offshore International Wine Challenge (IWC) in Hong Kong 
was at Vinexpo, in 1996. I ran several here, and then in China. 
Later, I  took it to Japan, Russia, Poland, Thailand, Vietnam 
and  Singapore. I would probably qualify for the Guinness 
Book of  Records for having run the most competitions, over 
50 of them.
FIRST SIGN OF MADNESS I woke up one day and found I
was talking to myself. Professionally, at least. I’d just been to
the 
fourth or fifth dinner party where the person beside me,
who  
was richer, better educated and more sophisticated than
I was,  
revealed he didn’t know a Chablis was made from the
chardonnay grape. I realised all this stuff I’d been writing for 
all these years wasn’t being read by a wide audience. That 
growing feeling coincided with two things: the sale of the 
magazine and the birth of my first child, in 2005. I have no 
regrets that I stopped being a consumer wine writer. It was 
also timely due to the wonderful free wine writing appearing 
online.
COUNTING SHEEP When I – with two partners – decided I
wanted to make wine, I didn’t want to make the greatest wine
in the world; I wanted to make affordable, approachable wine 
that people could drink both on a Wednesday with pizza and at 
dinner party. So here we are – three Brits making a wine in
southern France called Le Grand Noir, with a black sheep on 
the label.
DIVORCED FROM REALITY If the wine industry and the
consumer were in a relationship, the consumer would have
walked out – a long time ago. Because what the wine industry
says is, “You don’t 
understand me, you’ve got to learn how to
understand me, and you’ve 
got to learn how to understand my
language”.
“You’ve got to understand my moods” (that’s a good vintage
and a bad vintage). “You’ve got to understand my demands”
(prices go 
up and down; only they don’t go down very often).
“You don’t 
understand what I’m saying, because I don’t tell
you what I am 
saying. But I want you to understand” (the label
usually doesn’t 
tell you anything). “I use language you don’t
understand. You 
need to understand me. You need help.”
SEALING THE DEAL Australia and New Zealand were
early adopters of the screw cap, largely because they’re small
countries. The screw cap hasn’t worked in America, which is a
fragmented market where 
each state has different liquor laws.
Most of Europe has been resistant, 
and French-led China still
prefers cork. I believe in the screw cap, and I 
like good
synthetic corks. Corks are bad news. If condoms or tyres had 

the same unreliability factor as corks, we wouldn’t accept it.
People are 
still selling wine for thousands of dollars that’s
sealed with a 
closure that is acknowledged to be faulty. I also
don’t 
understand why, in 2014, wine is still sold in the
traditional 
bottle size. The reason why the bottle is 75cl is 
because that was the lung capacity of a French glass blower in
the 17th 
century. My business partner has launched a square
wine 
bottle in the US. It’s the same height as regular wine
bottles,  
but easier to ship. But why’s that such an innovation?
SUMMER OF WINE Wine consulting brings me to events
like Hong Kong’s recent Vinexpo. When I first came here, in
the 1980s, there were a handful of people working in wine. It
was all  about the big French names and one or two New World
efforts.  Today, Hong Kong is spoiled for choice. Living in
London, I wish  we had the wine shops you have here. But,
given the fact that  there has been no duty in Hong Kong (since
2008), I am surprised  how expensive wine is here.

I was lucky enough to live  through what I call “the summer of
love of wine”, watching wine love develop here and in other
parts of the world in the period  between 1985 and 1995. The
pomposity came out of it during  that time. I’m enjoying
watching China go through the same  summer of love. A good
wine is a wine that you love.

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