I pretty much grew up around the beverage industry. My Mother worked for a brewery, Young’s of Wandsworth, for the best part of 17 years. My Dad drank in their pubs for the best part of 30. I used to play with the children of the landlords of the local pub, whilst my parents were downstairs. In short, beer and pubs were a formative part of my life.
The brewery my mother worked for was an independent family owned brewer, and a member of the Independent Family Brewers of Britain (similar to Australia’s First Families of Wine), and a stalwart of the Campaign for Real Ale (CamRA). Indeed, Michael Hardman – one of the founders of CamRA – was Young’s PR man.
As I grew up, playing with the landlords children upstairs , changed to being in the pub, in front of the bar. Sometimes sharing a beer with my Dad, or sharing many beers with friends. In the interests of rose tinted nostalgia, I’ll gloss over the mass consumption of fizzy lager years.
With Mum working at the brewery, I used to get summer work there. Just working in the post room, but this is a great way of getting around the brewery site; seeing all aspects of operations: both business and production. One of my favourite places was viewing the open fermenters where the ale was beginning to take shape. Working in the post department lead to working with the Marketing Manager, helping him with his MBA research and also setting up the once legendary company AGMs: where no matter how many shares you had, the brewery used to provide free ale.
Young’s always had its own branded stall at the CamRA Great British Beer Festival held annually at Olympia. Volunteers were always required to help man the stall – discounted beer and free CamRA membership were the perks.
CamRA was formed in the 70’s at a time when beer production in the UK was in the hands of a small handful of brewers, who also – through the UK’s tied house system, where brewers also owned the pubs – had considerable influence over distribution. These large brewers tended to focus on the mass produced, characterless, fizzy beer. Four individuals lamenting this fact, and the loss of smaller craft brewers, started the Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale, later changing this to the Campaign for Real Ale. In some respects this is similar to Max Allen’s views in the “Future Makers”, and indeed Max has commented the same.
CamRA membership brought with it access to a diverse range of beer. CamRA publishes its highly regarded Good Beer Guide on an annual basis (think James Halliday’s Wine Companion or Mattinson and Walsh’s Big Red Wine Book) with its regional listings of those public houses that it felt were true to the values of CamRA: principally a good range well kept real ale. This is like a beer drinkers’ bible. It was pretty much seen by me as an invite to try and sample as much good ale as possible, getting myself to the establishments contained within.
One of my family duties was to pick the Christmas dozen each year. I had no idea what I was doing. This was the early-mid 90’s, Aussie wine was starting to make a big impact in the UK and a well regarded chain – Oddbins - was starting to establish itself. They also stocked ale so I tended to find myself within buying that, and perusal of the single rack of ale lead to perusing the shelves of wine too. I still don’t necessarily believe I could recall a single wine I consumed around this time.
At the conclusion of University, a short break to Epernay was arranged. My first Cellar Door – if you can call grand maison that – was a Champagne House! Moet et Chandon and Mercier were obligatory visits. Purchases were made: vintage champagne, special cuvees. I like Champagne, indeed I still do, yet the only thing I retained from this visit was that I didn’t like demi-sec Champagne.
Napa Valley, Bordeaux, Marlborough and Hawkes Bay
I have visited all of these regions. Alas, I knew a fraction of what I know now. And that is still very little. I’m just going to have to go back.
Moving to Australia
Moving to Australia in 2007, I set myself a personal challenge of only drinking Australian wine. Rather limiting some may say, however my rationale was that having lived in the UK for so many years, I knew that I could have accessed European wines as I wished. I also reckoned that in the UK we saw a fraction of what was produced in Australia.
Shortly after arriving in Brisbane, I remember visiting a bottle shop in Brisbane and seeing cases and cases of d’Arenberg Feral Fox Pinot Noir – a favourite of the father-in-laws and difficult to obtain in the UK - on the floor. This to me just highlighted what I thought – there was so much out there that I needed to try. I hadn’t even heard of the “dress circle” as yet, and to me the Mornington Peninsula was where Harold Holt went for a swim.
Hello, I’m Stuart and I’m a Vinsomniac. There were two things that happened in 2009. A planned road trip with some friends (see The Wine List) prompted some serious planning with my James Halliday Wine Companion. This holiday was the real trigger in sparking a deep love for wine – Australian wine.
I followed up the spark with reading Campbell Mattinson’s “Why the French Hate Us” and “Wine Hunter”. It was Mattinson's "Why The French Hate Us" that caused me problems. Good ones. I used to wake in the night, tossing and turning, thinking of something Mattinson had written in the book. Or thinking of the wines of a particular winery mentioned. I used to have to take myself to the spare room and read more. I termed this Vinsomnia. The spark caught and a passion burns fierce.
04/02/2010 - Update - I was diagnosed with severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea in December 2011. This also coincided with a period where I was looking to make the site more professional, not sure that thewinewankers.com (this site's original name) reflected that. So, given my recent diagnosis and my assertion that I was a Vinsomniac, I amended the site's name to www.thevinsomniac.com.
I am a twitterholic. I’ve met some fantastic people through twitter – you know who you are – twitter has also introduced me to the writing of some talented individuals whose work I respect immensely.
At the same time I curse their evocative writing for it just makes me want to buy, buy, buy. I like just being on the cusp of things. I think I’m getting known as someone who appreciates good wine.
This site, and all within, is an attempt to capture that passion, make some sense of it and hopefully improve further as a student (or is that slave?) to the delight of wine.