Bob Davidson writes, ‘After studying Philosophy at university and then short stint in PR, Bob’s wine career started with the Majestic graduate scheme, whereupon he completed his various WSET levels. From then he joined BWI Private Client Sales, before finding something of a calling in drinks events. Now he works at Imbibe and Imbibe Live. When not tasting/drinking/talking about wine, Bob plays the accordion in a Celtic folk band and dabbles in a little close-up magic.’ This is his rather unusual and unedited entry in our seminal wine competition.
I’ll wager three months of age is the youngest vinous moment that has been submitted to this competition. Whilst I can’t claim to call it my ‘seminal’ moment (largely because I can’t remember it) there exists ‘hilarious’ photographic evidence* of me sucking wine from a heavily dunked finger, which occasionally is aired when people visit my parents. Before any of JR’s readers plan on reporting my Mother to social services, I should mention that it was given to me by one of her midwife friends (medical thinking has progressed since) along with some small chunks of battered fish, apparently. Lord knows what it was, but I imagine it was cheap, red, Eastern European and possibly came in a PET bottle.
Wine was always part of my upbringing – small sips mixed with coke, lemonade or orange juice – but it wasn’t until we started making it that I really became enthused. Now, whilst other entrants probably have a grand pedigree of winemaking in Tuscany or wherever, I would like to add that we lived in a two bedroom flat in Plymouth. The wine in question came in a tin of concentrated must from the local homebrew place called ‘The Hop Shop’ (in my young mind I always thought it sounded a bit like ‘hippopotamus’, and as such immediately liked it). We’d bought a demi-john and a box kit to make roughly six bottles of ‘Californian Pinot Noir’ (no doubt with all sorts of legal disclaimers attached to make the title acceptable). Mumsie eschewed the included sulphite sachet; wrestling the demi-john into our small sink, she insisted that washing up liquid would be a perfectly good enough sterilisation product (an interesting position for a trained biochemist). When the demi-john had dried we poured in the thick, gooey must, along with some cane sugar, boiled water and a packet of yeast, shoved in a bung and airlock and put it under the kitchen table. Being an impatient child, I stared at it for a bit, slightly disappointed that nothing was happening. When the bubbles started to pop through the airlock, that’s where my love of wine started – watching it come alive: like a less-sinister, boozy, young Frankenstein, we had genuinely created life. I think I thought of it as a sort of pet.
After what seemed like aeons (probably a month or two) we had to go through a number of baffling procedures that I enjoyed but left me ultimately nonplussed. First, we had to syphon it into another demi-john and add a Campden tablet (I remember really liking that name). Sometime after, we added these weird little sachets of gloopy, funny smelling ooze, with peculiar names like ‘Isinglass’ and ‘Bentonite’. Then, finally, we messily directed it into half a dozen bottles that had gone through the Fairy Liquid Sterilisation Programme™. I really can’t remember how long after that it was that we got to drink it, nor what the occasion was, nor even exactly how old I was (probably about eight), but I do distinctly remember finally being able to swallow a mouthful of wine without grimacing and wanting to cry. In fact, I really enjoyed having the familiar grape-juicey flavours along with something … else. I expect if I tasted it now I would not have quite the same enthusiasm – it would have been about 8%, full of RS, baked and quite possibly infected – nevertheless, that was the moment I became fascinated by anything fermented.
After that Mumsie got the bug and made all sorts of wines, originally from kits, then from wild picked fruit, then leftovers like pea-pods, even up to a couple of boxes of Five Alive that were past their best before date (in case that last one appeals to you, seriously, do not bother). It was a fun hobby, and even though I didn’t really drink any of it, it was the process of fermentation I just loved watching, along with feeling very grown up when allowed to have a sip to see what I thought.
Beers, ales in particular, really got me hooked in my mid-late teens, before I found my way back to wine, but find my way back I did. When I was 18 in my first week at uni in London, ordering a Sancerre in a wine bar in Leicester Square (as if I knew what the hell it was) and being amazed at how it smelt exactly like some elderflower wine we had once made. A few years later I’d bought a bottle of Fleurie (definitely De Boeuf but can’t remember the vintage, probably 2000) and thinking it reminded me of something we’d made in our kitchen – fruity and floral. Loads of my first forays into wine would remind me of something we’d attempted in our kitchen in Plymouth.
I’ll be honest, once I started to get to try serious wines that have changed my life for various reasons – Ch Batailley 2001, Krug, 2001 Gagnard-Delagrange C-M “Morgeot”, Leoville Barton 1986, Latour 1996, Margaux 1986, Lynch Bages 1961, Taylor’s Scion 1855 etc – they haven’t all exactly reminded me of Mumsie’s homebrew. But as I am here, now, nervously awaiting to see if I have been accepted onto the MW programme starting this year, my passion probably wouldn’t have been aroused if the trip to The Hop Shop hadn’t happened. So thanks, Mum. Thanks for everything.
*I did request this picture from Mumsie, but, perhaps in the interest of avoiding prosecution, she “can’t find it”. Handy.