Joelle Thomson

Wine writer and award winning wine author

What I am drinking, reading and savouring each week


Friday drinks with Mike Kush, the new GM of Shaky Bridge

Shaky Bridge Wines in Alexandra appointed a new winemaker and general manager this week with Mike Kush, who was born and bred in Chicago in the United States and has over 30 years of experience in wineries around the world, 15 of which were in New Zealand. 

Kush is the owner of the evocative wine brand, Chasing Harvest, named after his penchant for working dual harvests around the world, in both Northern and Southern Hemispheres. He is also studying for the Master of Wine qualification.

Here is Kush's story. 

How long have you been at Shaky Bridge and where were you before then?

I’ve just arrived in my new role but was fortunate to work with Dave Grant at Shaky Bridge as assistant winemaker for the 2014, 2015, and 2016 vintages. I have also made my own wines under my Chasing Harvest label here in New Zealand, in the Douro Valley, Portugal. I’ve also been fortunate to work for other wineries in New Zealand, in Burgundy, Mosel, Argentina, South Africa, Portugal, and California.

When were you bitten by the wine bug?

In my first job in Sonoma County. I had already started to develop a fascination with wine when I was at university and also working at restaurants. However, my first wine job as a vintage cellar hand in Sonoma County was when I was really bitten. I just loved all the work, even the most tedious and mundane. When it was explained to me that if I wanted to double my experience by chasing harvest to the Southern Hemisphere to work extra vintages, that sealed it. The rest is history and I’ve been chasing the wine bug ever since.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I think it ties in nicely with wine. I appreciate wine can provide these amazing sensorial experiences, but what I enjoy most about wine is that it is something that you can have on the table with family or friends with a meal and as part of your break from the day. We all work hard and for me to have that time, especially with family, with a nice wine and meal with the chance to relax and enjoy it, that is perfect happiness.

What is your greatest extravagance?

I’m sure it would be a very nice bottle of wine. We certainly don’t have extravagant bottles every night, but having a great bottle of wine on the table occasionally would be our splurge.

Which talent would you most like to have?

It would be nice to be someone who could learn languages more easily. I’ve also spent many years in Portugal in the Douro wine region which is another special place for me. Each year I go I try to communicate more and although I have become very good at swearing in Portuguese,  I am nowhere near fluent.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I’m pretty comfortable with who I am, although there is always room for improvement (my wife would say).  By nature I’m a bit of an introvert, but there are times I would relish being a gregarious type was always out there having a good time.

What is your greatest achievement? 

I think that would explain my involvement in the Masters of Wine programme. I consider myself a lifelong learner and I’ve gained much from it, but there is no guarantee of passing. I’m sure the difficulty and challenge is part of my attraction to it. I’m also a career changer. I studied engineering and worked in higher education back in Chicago. I enjoyed that work and am still passionate about learning, but it took a very big leap of faith to leave that world and drive cross country to California for my first wine job. My wife followed, and we became different people with new lives that eventually brought us here to New Zealand. We’re very fortunate to be here and it wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t take that chance all those years ago.  It was taking that leap into the unknown which was a very difficult decision for my former self that is perhaps my greatest achievement.

Where would you most like to live?

I’ve been fortunate to spend some time in some stunning wine regions and have just recently become a resident of New Zealand. Although I’ve spent a lot of time here I’m still in a bit of shock and awe that my family and I call New Zealand home. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be here and particularly down in Central Otago. I never take the view for granted. It’s a beautiful spot to live.

What is your most treasured possession?

I’m sure my wife would say some of the wine I’ve collected over the years. As someone you has been on the road often for the past 16 years, I’ve traveled pretty light. I have just a smattering of possessions in a few corners of the world without much connection to them.  However, my young son gave me a Valentine’s Day card this week, and he put in it a special message that just blew me away, so that would be my most prized possession at the moment. 

Who are your heroes in real life?

My Dad. He has had a number of very close calls in life and has always battled back. His bravery and strength has been an inspiration and he wouldn't have made it without the support from the medical community. Those who tirelessly work helping others as their passion and those working to improve the world around us are heroes to me.