Recently, I the opportunity to chat with Justin Taylor, third generation of the Taylor family and current brand ambassador of Wakefield wines. I think that you will be as informed and entertained as I was with his candid and thoughtful answers to our questions.
BevX – Is it odd to see Wakefield on labels of wine that is known to you and your home country as Taylor?
Taylor – Well, I’m certainly not changing my name to Wakefield! It’s a funny thing after having grown up in Australia with the family name literally there in our living room (or I should say, our dining room). But the world’s a funny place and it’s simply a reality that our family name is used by other company’s for their wine offers over here. So for the immediate future, I suspect I’ll be having to explain myself a bit more than before, that’s all.
BevX – Tell us about your decision to go to screw caps for all of your wines. Did it cause concern for your longtime customers or was it instantly embraced?
Taylor – The change to screw cap was pretty amazing at the time. We really did it on gut feel and it was an emotional decision because we’d literally had to pour two different lots of our flagship St Andrews wines down the sink due to faulty corks making them unfit for sale. Fortunately, our customers and consumers who knew us, realized that we genuinely are fanatical about wine quality above all else, so it was a huge message to the rest of the wineries in Australia when we stood up to be counted like this. Our customers were amazingly fast to accept the move in fact, so we’ve never really looked back. There’s a pretty new corking machine available for sale at the back of our winery warehouse if anyone wants it – we’ll never have a use for it, for sure.
BevX – The Wakefield wines don’t seem to be stereotypically Australian in style to us. Would you agree and what is the benchmark style for your wines?
Taylor – Well BevX doesn’t seem stereotypically American in it’s assessment of wines either, if you don’t mind me saying! Oddly if you could jump in a time machine and go back twenty years, you’d find our wine style much more common in Australia. It’s just that when the move occurred in the 1990’s towards, brighter, rounder, more immediate wine styles, we backed an idea that sooner or later the consumers who liked that would find themselves wanting a bit more structure and a bit better natural fit to food. So we put a stake in the sand and put our energy into refining the classic, structured style, rather than chasing fashion. We’re still pleased we did that. The best benchmark we have is that the family continues to feel good about drinking their own wines. The structure is “classical”, but inherently these are 100% Australian in their core DNA.
BevX – The wine portfolio from Taylor/Wakefield has evolved quite a bit over the first four decades. What does the future hold for Wakefield? What will be the featured varietals for the coming decade?
Taylor – Wow. Our winemaker, Adam Eggins, actually does keep a crystal ball in his office but that’s a big question! For sure, we will continue our journey into Cabernet Sauvignon and what get referred to in the USA as Meritage blends. That’s what set us off forty years ago and there’s a heap more work to do before we really say we’re done there. We’re looking seriously at refining our Clare Valley offer into a tighter core of varieties – sticking with Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Riesling from the current plantings for sure, but then also having a good look at Tempranillo, which seems to do well there, and Pinot Gris which we just produced for the first time in 2008 and we are thrilled with. For other varieties, we’re beginning to look further afield and the Adelaide Hills is yielding some exciting results for us with Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as some very sexy Chardonnay, all of which I’d love to be tasting you on here, rather than just talking about. Watch this space!
BevX – Your Rieslings are wonderful and well priced as well. How do we get the typical wine consumer to drink more Riesling?
Taylor – Am I allowed to talk about imprisonment and force feeding? Seriously, Riesling is a labour of love and thank god that so many in the trade themselves do appreciate it. As a matter of fact, the USA is a bright spot for Riesling, with some really good growth and interest being shown. I think as more and more consumers feel they have had their fill of Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc, they are turning to Riesling as a more rewarding alternative. In fact, when I’m Kiwi-baiting, I sometimes refer to Riesling as “thinking man’s Sauvignon Blanc” – I suspect that might generate some feedback on your column! (It just wouldn’t be proper if an Aussie didn’t take a playful jab at the Kiwis!)