John Forrest is in the Waitaki Valley in North Otago when we speak this morning. It’s a region he holds close to his heart and his tasting glass.
“I love the wines from here, they express Chardonnay at its finest, with a crisp, Chablis-like texture and weight and the Pinot Noirs are incredibly too,” says the Marlborough winemaker, who gave up a career in neurophysiology for one in winemaking in 1988.
“The Government had announced it was pulling funds for science research and the writing was on the wall, so I went home to Marlborough to make wine instead. I figured, being a scientist, I could teach myself to make wine and I also learnt from some of the best, including Alan McCorkindale.”
Forrest segued into wine after visiting California, where the wines ignited his passion for good wine.
He plans to plant more vines in the Waitaki Valley, when vines become available. This will add to his currently modest tally of six hectares, which is all planted with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and a little Pinot Gris. Forrest was one of the first to plant in the Waitaki Valley when he planted part of his Tatty Bogler Vineyard there in 2003. He and his wife Brigid, also a doctor, established Forrest Estate Wines in Marlborough in 1988. His first vintage was 1990 and that year he won the Air New Zealand Director’s Trophy for the 1990 Forrest Estate Rosé, a serendipitous wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Figuring out how to make halfway decent low alcohol wine. The biggest criticism when low alcohol beer and wine came along was that they were thin and dilute. We’ve sorted that out, without chemistry or trickery. It’s not all that I want to be known for. Watch this space.
What is your current state of mind?
Excited, energised and full of new ideas. My daughter has taken over the bullshit of running a company from me, so I’m having a ball being able to explore new ideas now.
I love pruning and last year I got to prune all our Albarino since I couldn’t go overseas. Every plant looks fantastic. I love it.
What is your favourite part of winemaking?
I love it all but blending is my favourite for the intellectual and physical challenges it brings.
Do you have a most treasured wine?
Old vine Brancott John Forrest Riesling. Those wines under screwcap from 2001 onwards are stunning.
Where is your favourite wine region?
Waitaki Valley. There’s an energy and a vibrancy about standing on the top of a hill in the Waitaki.
When and where are you at your happiest?
In my vineyard with no one else around. I love pruning because every good cut makes great wine. Doing it on a sunny day with my phone on silent is a special privilege.
What do you most dislike in wine?
Wines that are made to a formula or a process and don’t show any personality. Factory wines that could have been made so much better. I think: why?
What is your greatest fear?
Something biological that could turn the industry upside down, like Pearce’s Disease. When you have a monoculture like we have in Marlborough, we are at risk.
What is your greatest extravagance?
What is your greatest regret?
Not buying 100 hectares of bare Marlborough land about 12 years ago, given what it’s worth now.
What talent would you most like to have?
A musical one. I have a wonderful banjo that my daughter bought for me five years ago and I’m just hopeless.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Not having good friends and family.
What is the trait that you most deplore in yourself?
Impatience and intolerance.
What do you most value in your friends?
Good company and humour. I like having conversations with humour.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
At the moment, it’s caution. You’d never do anything in life if you were cautious all the time.
What is your favourite meal?
Fresh Marlborough blue cod, steamed Asian style with fresh ginger. Beautiful.
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing what would it be?
Can I come back as what I am? A winemaker. I can’t think of a better life. A dog would also be nice with people who love you.