Joelle Thomson

Wine writer and award winning wine author

What I am drinking, reading and savouring each week


Monday afternoon vino with Neal Ibbotson

Saint Clair Family Estate, one of New Zealand’s biggest and most successful wine producers.

The biggest extravagance and the best investment that Neal Ibbotson ever made was the engagement ring he bought for his wife, Judy, who shares in the life of Saint Clair Family Estate, one of New Zealand’s biggest and most successful wine producers.

He got into the wine industry aged 50 and doesn’t do regrets but, if he did, it would be not getting into winemaking earlier. His mother lived to be 104. She was the inspiration behind the eponymous sparkling wine, Dawn, one of New Zealand’s best bubblies, which is made the same way as champagne with its second fermentation in the bottle. But Saint Clair is better known for its Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noirs, sparkling wines and Rieslings, all of which come in a wide range of styles, prices and quality levels.

Meet Neal Ibbotson, the man behind the label, whose adult children now run the winery with him and Judy; the recipient of the best investment that Neal ever made.

  • This is the fifth interview on this website based on the famous Proust questionnaire, which originated in 1886 – find out more here.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? The great feeling of waking up after open heart surgery

What is your current state of mind?

It’s always positive. I’m very lucky to be doing what I am doing with the people I’m doing it with. Great people make great wine.

What is your favourite part of winemaking?

The challenges. The people we work with. Working as a team. The people we have met along the way and tasted wine with from all round the world. Asking the question HDWDIB . How do we do it better? And lifting the bar.

Do you have a most treasured wine?

It’s all about wine and food. The combination of Judy’s roast chicken and a bottle of Saint Clair Omaka Reserve Chardonnay

Where is your favourite wine region?

The village of Saint Emilion, in Bordeaux, for its history and heritage, dating back to the 13th century, its cobbled streets, amazing old buildings and underground wine cellars.

When and where are you at your happiest? 

On the deck at our bach at Kaiteriteri beach, overlooking the waters and beaches of Able Tasman, with family and friends enjoying a lunch time glass of rosé.

What do you most dislike in wine?

Cork closures, which have in the past destroyed many great wines.  To make quality wine with all that entails and to stuff it up with a bit of rotten bark, was a frustrating and demoralising experience. Thank god we have moved on with screwcaps.

What is your greatest fear? 

Spilling a glass of really good red wine over the hostess’s white dress.

What is your greatest extravagance?

The best investment I ever made. Borrowing money to buy my wife Judy’s engagement ring.

What is your greatest regret? 

If I did regrets it would be that I didn’t become involved in the wine industry until I turned 50 . Because I don’t do regrets, I’m just so fortunate that I became involved when I turned 50. It’s been an amazing ride.

What talent would you most like to have? 

It would be great if I had all the handy man skills. But then I would not have enough time to enjoy the wine business

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? 

Negative people. How sad.

What is the trait that you most deplore in yourself?  

Not being able to play to the golf handicap I had 30 years ago 

What do you most value in your friends?

It’s the camaraderie, the ability to both listen and share thoughts and experiences. It’s great when the people you do business with around the world who are our distributors and importers then become friends.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

HDWDIB – how do we do it better? GWYTAT is another one – o while your tyres are tight.

What is your favourite meal?

So many. Judy is a great cook and has produced  two recipe books. One of these featuring famous dishes from our distributors from all round the world. Its enjoying her cooking and dining at the end of the day with a great meal and great bottle of wine.  

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing what do you think it would be?

A rock star. To be able to sing in tune, with a great voice and guitar to match.