Joelle Thomson

Wine writer and award winning wine author

What I am drinking, reading and savouring each week


Friday wine with Malcolm Rees-Francis

It’s nine days into nationwide lockdown in New Zealand and  Central Otago winemaker Malcolm Rees-Francis is living in alternate states of thankfulness and disbelief, in between being interviewed for this chat about life, the state of the world and wine.

“The sin is being boring,” he told me, of what makes a wine unappealing, adding that he would rather have a bad wine than a boring one because there is no hook for your interest and your brain or for your tastebuds.

Here, Malcolm talks about the upsides of lockdown with his almond trees in blossom, time to garden and harvest over for the year. And the downsides; the anti lockdown brigade and the situation in countries far worse off than New Zealand.

Wine of the week

2020 Rockburn Pinot Noir $45

Lush fruit flavours and a ripe black cherry core run through this full bodied Central Otago Pinot Noir made from 15% grapes grown in Gibbston Valley and 85% in Parkburn – a warmer area in this cool region. This wine is dense in texture with exotic spicy notes of freshly grated nutmeg and a nuance of cinnamon quills adding depth and complexity. It drinks well now and is a keeper thanks to its body and depth.

Friday wine with Malcolm Rees-Francis

The following is my version of the Proust questionnaire which originated in 1886 as The New Yorker explains here.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

My greatest achievement is getting the job as Rockburn’s winemaker. There are about three dozen winemakers in Central Otago so it’s a pretty select little bunch in the world of wine. It is a very privileged position and I’m very lucky and very thankful to be doing this thing in this place.

What is your current state of mind?

It circles around levels of relief and being happy to live in New Zealand, one of the most Covid-free places in the world. Then it swings around to levels of frustration that there are so many people railing against what we’re trying to do to keep people safe. There are so many people who are liars raging against trying to keep people safe and it makes me angry. I’m fully vaccinated as of two weeks ago. I spent seven days in Auckland to line things up for Rockburn at this year’s Pinot Palooza. Everyone was wearing masks on public transport which was great but I scanned everywhere I went and was disappointed the lack of scanning that I saw surprised me.

What is your favourite part of winemaking?

I like the whole thing. I really like making wine. It can be just doing a job that I have designed and set up and executed; there are very few things more satisfying than that. The other day I was fining a Pinot Gris with bentonite with the radio up loud. It’s not exciting but knowing you’ve done it to the best of your ability is what makes it satisfying. At the end of the day winemaking is a lot of factory work. Cleaning a tank can be extremely satisfying. A job well done.

Do you have a most treasured wine?

I’ve made some great wines over the years and there have been some amazing vintages that have been my great privilege to make. It’s up to other people’s appreciation about how treasured or not they may be.

I bought some vintage port for my boy’s birth year so they are relatively treasured. You can spend a lot of money on wine if you really want to. Those wines are not necessarily better.

Over the years I’ve gotten into Vouvray and the first I tried from Marc Bredif was 1986 – there’s a wine that shows you don’t need to spend a lot of money to find a treasure.

Where is your favourite wine region?

The one I’m in. One great truism is that wine regions have a knack of being drop dead gorgeously beautiful, so it has to be said that Central is pretty spectacular. Living in Cromwell can be a bit of a drag sometimes but it’s a lovely quiet place to bring up kids, the view is always outside the window and the neighbours are not too close.

When and where are you at your happiest?

When I’m in lost in the task of winemaking.

What do you most dislike in wine?

I have two . The first is lack of balance. The greatest wines I’ve ever tried literally leave you lost for words because they have such perfect harmony and complexity that you can’t pick them apart.

It’s usually too much alcohol that makes a wine unbalanced so that’s a problem for me. And secondly, I most dislike a wine that is boring. A wine with nothing to say, no sense of place and that you can perceive just how polished and androgynous it is.

I would rather have a bad wine than a boring wine because at least with a bad wine there’s something interesting about it. We could have a whole conversation about that as opposed to ‘I don’t even remember what I drank… no hooks in those wines and they don’t grab your brain or your passion.”

The best wines are the ones that you can say the least about.

What is your greatest fear?


What is your greatest extravagance?

My bosses would say the amount of money we spend on oak.

What is your greatest regret?

Not going to see Chris Cornell (American singer/songwriter) when he was playing in Christchurch. My biggest regret.

What talent would you most like to have?

Perfect recall.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

I look around the world and think of people in Afghanistan as one of many. I don’t have a frame of reference to even imagine the depths of misery that some people are going through in other places.

What is the trait that you most deplore in yourself?

My wife says I can be very cruel.

What do you most value in your friends?


Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

That changes.

What is your favourite meal?

I’m a big fan of food so to have a favourite meal is very difficult. I’m heavily into Szechuan cuisine at the moment. I’ve got the cookbook and all the interesting spices like black cardamom and it’s delicious, but pasta would have to be my first love. So many different types and so much you can do with such simplicity such as linguine with olive oil, parmesan and garlic – heaven. Then there’s ramen noodles.

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

I would come back as a cat. That defines my personality quite well.