Richard Slater is not a wine professional – but, he writes, 'most people could not discern a difference. Based in Melbourne Australia, he has refrained from full-time work with wine (so far), earned a meagre WSET 3 and "writes" an eccentric wine blog at sweetworldwines.com. Apart from making his family suffer with his wine obsession, he consumes his leisure time with literature, arthouse films, and feeble efforts to play guitar and harmonica'. Here's his unedited entry in our seminal wine competition. He's on the left in this picture taken in Berry Bros & Rudd's cellars.
It's all John Vickery's fault.
His wiles have personally cost me more than $200,000 over the years.
It all started when I was a guileless University student, used to drinking occasional flagon sherry served at student functions, sometimes a bit of punch, cider, wines opened by less impecunious friends, and my own buys of the odd white wine depending on my precarious budget.
Somehow in the early 1980's I was given a ticket to Expovin, a wine tasting event held at the nearby Exhibition buildings in Melbourne, providing an opportunity to try (many) wines, very few within my puny purchasing power.
There were plenty of wine companies exhibiting their wines, certainly a mouth-watering prospect of free alcohol for a harmless innocent. Suddenly a voice came from the ether "would you like to try some older Rieslings?". And there began my descent into the alcoholic maelstrom, and an ongoing thirst for knowledge.
I was propelled to a seat in a little room, and was tempted by perhaps half a dozen wines, while "the master" with his devil-may-care approach showed Riesling differences between the Clare Valley and the Eden Valley, wines with up to 10 years bottle age, wines of different sweetness levels, wines of different price levels too.
The tasting invitation came from John Vickery, a name unknown to me then, but in hindsight an emissary of the devil. Of course it didn't take long to learn that he was regarded as the Australian legend of Riesling at Leo Buring, with numerous trophies and long-living wines made under his guidance. And after several "retirements", and a stint at Richmond Grove, this true gentleman is still hell-bent on making Riesling after more than 60 years in the Australian wine industry. Have a hunt through Google and find he's held in the same esteem as Grange inventor Max Schubert.
I breezed out into the twilight with the mark upon me. I could no longer to be satisfied by bottom-end beverages (labelled at this earlier period as Moselle, Chablis, White Burgundy, and Rhine Riesling - which often turned out to be made from negligible grape varieties). My budget now had to stretch to accommodate better wines, the rounds of tasting, leading to desperate efforts to get part-time work, and a new devotion to of participating in enjoying my parents' wines (an opportunity I had previously ignored).
The Leo Buring Riesling wines had names like Leonay DWJ 34. Allegedly, DW stood for "dry white", Leonay was the best wine or two of the vintage, and the letter stood for the year alphabetically (1973 was C, and after a full rotation, 2013 is S). But it's more likely this is code forms some part of the secret 666 dogmas of the underworld. Perhaps Dan Brown can assist?
I now mercifully pass over my descent into drinking red wines, the further degradation of touring cellar doors, the joining of mailing lists, the increase in average spend per bottle. But still there was no end. There were further humiliations as I inveigled a winemaker in allowing me to help with grape-picking, filling barrels, assisting with bottling and other menial tasks, while plaguing him with very basic winemaking questions. The demon drink had me utterly in its clutches.
Then came digressions in to food matching, the reading of wine columns, the purchase of books to help my understanding, the wine courses, haunting of wine auctions and dusty bottle shops, the joining of wine groups and even organising amateur wine-tasting events. Plus the holidays planned around visits to wine regions, extending to visits and appointments at overseas wineries.
I have avoided breathalysers by being too careful to drive after nights out, so family has filled the role of designated chauffeurs apart from a string of taxi - and more recently Uber- fares. And there is a collection of bottles stored in cupboards, under beds, and under the house. Some empty bottles even form a hall of fame – or is it shame? There are photos of vineyards, barrels, tanks, winemakers. There are reams of price lists. Plus countless wine glasses of various sizes and shapes, decanters, exotic gadgets and paraphernalia for removing corks, all cluttering up an otherwise orderly kitchen.
Of course, there are other people in the same vicious league of dark arts as John Vickery. Think about the conspiracy of wine writers, speakers, and propagandists. And others who cunningly allude to the pleasures of craft beers, exotic spirits and so on. They are part of the same system, just at different levels. Clearly devilry is afoot in their progression to success and their silver-tongued persuasive talents. Their recruits parrot the same party line about the nuanced subtleties of various alcoholic beverages. Coincidence? I think not.
Apart from devastated finances, and the monstrous amounts of time consumed on this obsession, all I have are a bunch of happy memories, some memorable bottles tasted, several notebooks, and a coterie of friends who seem to have been infested with similar interests.
Hell's bells! Is that a fair reward for a lifetime of drinking wine? Not to mention the angst and suffering of abstention for periods due to medical interventions.
John Vickery – you b*st*rd, it's all your fault!