Eight Inspirational Winemakers of 2018

As we go through this life, we meet people that inspire us to do greater things. When listening to them talk or observing their work, we’re being given a glimpse of ourselves from a distance – what we perhaps haven’t obtained yet or what we’re capable of grasping in the future. We are humbled by even the briefest chats with our motivators (I don’t use the word “idols” as I don’t find much meaning to it), because they provide us with a form of intense mindfulness. The joy of such encounters roots from having the balls to go into the darkness of ignorance and realize that wine is not about who has the rarest bottle in their cellar or who can utter the poshest descriptor. It’s not about egos or styles or trends. It’s about creativity, soul-searching, expression, questioning, intention, emotion. It’s escape, transformation, outreach and the endless search for perfection. Simply, it’s about art.

The following list is comprised of all the winemakers that I met, tasted wines from or read about in 2018. These figures have inspired me to better myself, whilst trying to stay courteous in the process. Their work has taught me to do my best in transferring knowledge to people that came looking for it and to always represent the craft in the best light. I have never been so inspired, so in love on a mental level with the genius of these people and their wines. Their contributions to humankind will echo forever, at least in me for the rest of my life. To the artists, salute!

Ray Nadeson, Lethbridge

Many Europeans still don’t count Australia as a “serious” winemaking country, but little do they know, these wines have changed dramatically over the years. Leading the way in Geelong, Victoria, Ray Nadeson is one of the main suspects for this shift. He’s a scientist who built his winery and house with his own two hands – no architectural plans, no huge construction teams. His avantgarde approach enabled him to concentrate on more than three projects simultaneously, without stepping out of the borders of quality. His labels speak to you, creating that much needed human touch and reflecting his personality. When talking to Ray, one can conclude that there is no room for empty words. He does what he sets out to do and that’s that.

Sandro Barosi, Cascina Corte

Sandro is as old school as it gets. Go to his website and you’ll get blasted to the early 2000s of the internet, with the Flash Player extension still intact and a logo designed in Paint. Luckily, I’m not here to navigate you through cyberspace. I’m here to point out the gems this admirable gentleman has to offer. The estate of Cascina Corte (which is also an agriturismo) is settled amongst the gently rolling hills in Dogliani, Piemonte. Sandro doesn’t only shine with Dolcetto (amphora style, fit for kings), his Langhe wines (Nebbiolo and Barbera) also make you regret not stocking up on time. They express first and foremost the land they’re born in, then the winemaker’s character – starting off mellow, but barging through the senses with austerity and richness. Italian winery of the year, hands down.

Aleš Kristančič, Movia

Known all over Europe and the larger part of the US, Slovenia stands out on wine lists as a world class wine producing region. In Bosnia, we have the fortune to drink these wines at ridiculous prices, but with everything that is easy to get, they usually stay notoriously underappreciated. Owned by one of the most outlandish guys I have ever shaken hands with, Movia stands out as a philosophy above all, afterwards as a winery. Aleš Kristančič never boxed himself up, so tagging him with anything (conventional, natural, modern…) just won’t cut it. You have to think deeper into the untouched realms of wine and life. This vision has been perfected in his Lunar 9° 2008, a psychedelic you come back to when you seek spiritual purification through altered states of consciousness.

Timothy Ovenden, Millton

Millton is New Zealand’s first organic and biodynamic winery, starting back in the 80s, way before the “trends”. Even though they use minimal intervention aka natural winemaking techniques, Tim, assistant winemaker, never emphasized that in our talk. Their main focus is making good shit that reflects terroir and protects the environment. Period. Their signature wine, Libiamo Field Blend 2016, blew me away. This is the first time I came across an orange wine with two impressive traits: a) it was aged on skins for 200 days b) every single person that tasted it fell on their face with delight. This proves that unlabeled, surreal madness enforced in the winery can easily be echoed at the dining table in a much more fun and approachable way.

Neil Prentice, Moondarra

Neil Prentice has many great stories, but the one of how he got into winemaking is my favourite. When Neil dug up all the cow horns from under his uncle’s cypress trees, he got the shit kicked out of him. ‘Why the fuck were you into biodynamics in the 60’s?’, he asked. His uncle stared at him blankly. In actuality, he wasn’t classifying what he was doing back then. He was just trying to bring the best out of nature, listening to the earth, rather than his ego. Today, Neil has plantations of Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir, followed by minor plantings of Picolit, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio and Friulano (inspired by Radikon and Gravner, who he calls “the punk” of winemaking). His Pinot is so different from anything you’ve ever tasted in the New World. Ever. Funky, terroir-driven and full of character. Don’t miss it!

Bariša Škegro, Škegro Family Winery

The psychology of taste is still strong in B&H. We have two wineries producing orange Žilavka – Brkić and Škegro. The reason why Brkić is loved by far more than Škegro? Biodynamics, which still epitomizes the mythical realm of wizardry and black magic in people’s minds. I’m not writing this to belittle Brkić. I’m writing this to emphasize how words (or rather the lack of them) play tricks on us. Attending a tasting a few years back in Mostar, Škegro’s Žilavka Orange 2015 was rated one of the lowest among the 50 tasted. This year, Singaporeans went berserk about it. It’s a shame we had only one bottle, but on the other hand I’m immensely proud of Bariša that he took this leap into the unknown. Or shall I say well-known, since this is old line Herzegovina, no labels, no certifications.

Mariagrazia Icardi, Icardi

Besides a wonderfully appealing name, Mariagrazia shines with confidence about her wines. Even though Google doesn’t give much info on them, she and her brother Claudio produce Nebbiolo of stunning character. They also have plantings of Barbera, Dolcetto and Cortese, but Barolo is where they’re #winning. This and many other appellations such as Valtellina, Ghemme and Barbaresco, have been truly wonderful turfs of exploration this year. I’ve come to the conclusion that the way of Barolo is to make it as an assemblage of grapes coming from several different areas and that’s exactly what Icardi does with their signature Parej. If you haven’t really thought through what “careful fruit selection from the best positions” means, these wines will guide you through it.

Jean-Pierre Robinot, Les Vignes de l’Ange Vin

There are certain great wines that you contemplate for hours on end. Some of those wines turn you into a dork, while others make you repeat FUCK and similar profanities several times out loud. There are no other words to describe what you’ve just drunk, so being vulgar is not only momentous, but necessary as well. To say that Jean-Pierre Robinot is an interesting character would be an understatement. He opened one of Paris’ first natural wine bars, L’Ange Vin, and created the bible on natural wine growers in France – Le Rouge et Blanc. His wines remind me heavily of Pollock’s dangerously pleasing work – chaos and turbulence from the outside, but as you dig deeper, you start understanding the sheer precision of his ideas and reasons behind their clever execution. Boom.

Written by Aleksandar Draganic – an inspirational grape juice drinker, professional glass polisher and hardcore Bosnian on tour. Find me @grapenomad

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