Pirom Phadoemchit writes, ‘As my seminal wine experience submission explains, I got into wine purely by chance as I think most of us have. I suppose you could say I took it one step further and actually decided to go and learn how to make it as oppose to just drink/collect it. Indulgent parents very generously paid for me to go and learn how to stomp grapes with my feet, which as any enology student will tell you is far from actual reality. Armed with a V&E degree I’ve been able to work vintages in a swath of places with vastly different wine growing philosophies that have spanned biodynamic almost natural Burgundy (Thibault Liger-Belair) to an ocean of Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough (Villa Maria); a summer in the Duoro (Quinta do Quinta do Coquihino), two very, very different “family wineries” (Merry Cellars in Pullman, WA state versus Continuum Estate in Napa), a fairly corporate LVMH entity (Cape Mentelle), and most recently a custom crush facility in the Williamette Valley (Brittan Vineyards/Consulting).
‘When I’m dreaming of making wine instead of doing it, I peddle wine having worked front of house in restaurants, and selling wines to both the on trade and private client markets. Though I wish I could drink more Burgundy and Bordeaux only because I can’t afford it, I actually will drink anything and everything finding pleasure and curiosity in the unknown, and the undiscovered (it’s got to be good of course). Ultimately I want to be making wine again but visas are hard to come by, so if you have a hook up, please let me know!’
Coming from a middle class family, wine wasn’t really part of the dinner table, but it wasn’t exactly foreign either. I had a vague inkling Bordeaux was wine, and that something called “Shiraz” was made in Australia.
I was 19, and in the army at that time when I encountered the bottle.
It was one weekend, while a motley trio of us were skulking around town for companions of the opposite gender, when we stumbled upon a fancy looking wine shop which allowed on premise drinking.
As we were nearing the end of army service, we already had designs to better ourselves before being released to the free world. Fancy seemed appropriate, something sophisticated (girls love sophistication), so in we go.
Naturally we are lost at the selection. The shopkeeper suggests, of all wines, a bottle of Mischief and Mayhem Puligny-Montrachet (about $125), to these inexperienced, poor, and fairly clueless 19 year olds.
Not knowing any better and not wanting to feel pai sei (a Hokkein phrase for embarrassment i.e. lose face), we agree. The bottle is poured, and there it is: tropical pineapple, butterscotch, ripe mangoes, caramel, vanilla – a fruit salad bomb. Like MDMA, this was the gateway wine, drinking exactly like one of those fusty tasting notes from wine publications.
At the time I was still considering a career in the kitchen as a chef. But the revelatory effect of this little Puligny derailed all thoughts of that. I was hooked, and resolved to go straight into winemaking, taking up a degree in viticulture and enology from Washington State University. Not exactly the traditional Singaporean career path but at least I could tell my (very generous) family that hey, I’m getting a science degree!
In the midst of it all, I would taste the Puligny a second time with disastrous results. Little did I know that this was premox rearing its ugly head.
Eventually I was able to get a vintage internship in Burgundy, 2013. There, I had the immense pleasure of visiting the namesake Domaine, and met Fiona, the proprietress who was very generous and, I’d like to think, quite touched that it was one of her wines that inspired me. I naturally tasted the current release of that Puligny but alas, like your first kiss, was invariably difficult to measure up to.
I am a huge believer in drinking with context, and context when something is drunk, and really don’t give credit to the Puligny that has essentially shaped my adult life. Similar sort of wines that appear at the right time, and at the right place will continue to show up. Highlights include Lagier Meredith’s Mondeuse as I was trying to impress a lady somm friend whilst in Napa, to a stalwart Guigal Cote du Rhone post a particularly disheartening poor’s day at work.
These wines may be a surprising entry considering where I currently ply my trade; contingencies brought me back to Singapore and these days I make a living at a fine wine merchant, peddling 1st Growth Bordeaux and Grand Cru Burgundies – wines which generally elicit hyperbole and are meant to be the apex of all vinous desires. All very good and well, but to be honest, a bit trite.
Rarely do these wines have the effect that that first bottle of Puligny had, nor does it recall the rush of having to process 900 tons of Sauvignon Blanc in a 12 hour shift like the 2014 Villa Maria Early Release Sauvignon Blanc, or the immense fun I had most recently, making a Willamette Valley Pinot in the winery bathroom as my coworkers looked on in disgust (the winery was too cold, the WC just warm enough).
Might I also add that an industry friend who tasted it blind said he thought it could have been an Ultramarine – high praise indeed for discarded fruit from the sorting table, fermented in a bucket!
As wine has shaped my life, it has also directed much of my wants and desires. I will finish this piece off by retelling a recent story, and the priorities that wines takes place for me these days.
In July, my girlfriend and I celebrated our two year anniversary. This is an accomplished feat for one simple reason: she doesn’t drink. I won’t get into the details but one can imagine how odd this is for a wine professional’s significant other being a teetotaler.
After our celebratory dinner a sommelier friend messages me with a picture of some Holy Grail Bordeaux including: ‘89 Petrus and a ‘90 La Mission Haut Brion. “There’s about 50ml left in each bottle, come over NOW” was the message. At this point, the girlfriend was already under the sheets, waiting for me to get in. The conflict played out in my head was excruciating to say the least. Naturally, I put my pants back on and drove over, as fast as I could.
The wines that evening were crushingly disappointing with the Petrus being lean, mean and green whilst the La Mission acrid and disgusting. Not all was lost however, a ‘89 Cheval Blanc’s texture was simply incredible – liquid velvet, likewise was the ‘90 Beauséjour. I’m not sure I’ll remember the taste of these wines in years to come, but I do know I will remember the context.
We are still together, and the girlfriend has to continuously sit through conversations of obsessing over stemware (Hint! Hint!), or how a wine has a “hollow mid-palate” as she rolls her eyes.
At this point in my life I can’t imagine doing anything else aside from wine, and it constantly amazes me how one bottle really has defined who I am. So even if my seminal bottle of wine wasn’t the best, without doubt it has been the most significant, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
And for that to Mischief and Mayhem, and to the village of Puligny – I am ever grateful