I first met Tom in the cellar of Jean and Pierre Gonon back in 2017. Little did I know four years later we would be re- connecting about importing his wine into California. I also wasn't fully aware of the extent of his experience, which to me stands apart from many other winemakers. While this isn't always true, a lot of winemakers spend time working vintages in their respective regions and maybe a few other cameos in various parts of the world. It isn't often that over a 5 year period someone works about 10 harvests and at more than 10 wineries. From 2012 to 2017 Tom worked vintages in both hemispheres consistently, and pretty much was never not working at a winery, staging, or spending time learning from various winemakers for either a week or a full vintage. It all started when Tom was working in a restaurant in his native New Zealand that had an incredible wine cellar. He quickly learned the easiest way to move up in hospitality is to be hungry and learn. He dove into wine and was instantly attached. He spent time working at the Hotel du Vin in the UK and as a sommelier while in University in Auckland. Seeing the potential in wine as a career, Tom first landed at a winery in 2011, at Hay Paddock winery in Waiheke Island. He then spent time working in sales and distribution, in restaurants, and would also work for free in wineries to learn as much about the overall business as he could.
His first vintage in Italy was in 2012 with Ruffino, quickly followed by returning to New Zealand with Pyramid Valley (Waikari). Over the next 5 years he spent time with Benjamin Leroux, Comte Armand, Alain Graillot, Thomas Bouley, Hubert Lamy, Robert Walters in Macedon, Michael Dillon from Bindi, Domaine de la Janasse in the Rhône, Marquis D'Angerville, Domaine du Pelican, Rinaldi, " " in Roero, and Dr. Loosen in the Mosel. I hope as you read this, you have the same reaction I felt: Wow. This purposeful amount of diversity of regions, climates, varietals, winemaking styles and philosophies - oh, and talent - is pretty amazing. All of these experiences are what shaped Tom as the winemaker he is today, and the one he continues to grow into.
From all of this you probably ask yourself what the biggest takeaways were. Of course, they all add different facets, but a few that particularly stood out. Conversations he had with Benjamin Leroux constantly play out in his head over and over as food for thought. The quality and diversity of the fruit, the way he thinks, who he is as a person made Tom believe this was one of the best cellar-hand positions to have in all of Burgundy. The Graillot Family lent something very important to Tom, aside from Syrah becoming his favorite everyday grape: learning about pruning, but also the culture and quality and focus; the acknowledgment of the human side of wine was very unique. This is where his idea of wine being fun, being shared was generated; the spirit and the energy was loud and clear, something he feels strongly about creating in his wines. Of course you want satisfaction, but without connection to emotional pleasure it doesn't matter. While all of his experience is significant, of course, his time working in the Southern Hemisphere in general he feels is really going to benefit the future of his winemaking craft. Working with the pressures of climate extremes and variation in regions like Australia and New Zealand is really unlike anything else, and as we see the climate continue to become more extreme in Europe, he feels this experience is crucial for more immediate success and less of a learning curve. "You know you are on the edge of possibility with agriculture, see how the vine behaves when it is at that extreme."
Viticulture and Vinification
In 2020, Tom had his first vintage in Piedmont. Producing Dolcetto, Langhe Nebbiolo, and Barolo. Taking all of his experience and finally putting it into his own vision. He is currently working with purchased fruit and focusing on building relationships , which he finds very important. Barrels from Garbellotto or the fruit he is buying it takes time, friendship, and trust to work together to make the best possible product for his wines, and it is worth investing the time. His main rule of thumb right now is no herbicides or pesticides Vineyards are so difficult to come by, it was time to jump and figure out the rest along the way. To sum up his priorities in the vineyard it is a balance of micro and macro. Micro being the individual plant and how it is respected and Macro being the vineyard as a whole. To work in way that is most respectful of the vine itself and its' vegetative cycle. Working in a positive way rather than just creating stress to find the right balance of vineyard practices as a whole in order to have the individual vine thrive on its own and have it communicate and display the place that it comes from as a whole. Pruning and interpreting plants in their respective places. Figuring out the individual eco system takes time to get it right. Compost is a big focuses well with the idea he would rather healthy soil a by virtue of having healthy individual plants in an environment to thrive.
Tom has a pretty traditional approach to winemaking with of course, some variations. He also isn't set on one recipe, as it is still the beginning and he will do what feels right for each vintage and the fruit. He prefers some percentage of whole cluster. When done well he sees i t as being similar to bolding a font. It adds detail and lift. Aromatically speaking, it tights, brightens and stabilizes the fragility to the aromatics of Nebbiolo with the idea that carries through time. No racking if it isn't needed. Where possible he works by gravity, but really leading by the idea " the winery can decide" whatever there is space and room for. he works with Garbellotto which are the same barrels used by producers such as Mascarello, Soldera, and Roagna, The origin of wood is important. Top quality, but staying open to the idea of blending different wood origins, if it creates another way of having the barrel character less obvious in the wines.