Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
Aspen Times Weekly
On my card for The Aspen Times, I identify myself as a “Wine Scribe.” It is a semi-cute affectation designed to separate what I do from “journalist,” or “writer.”
But this past month I spent a week with a passel of wine writers from throughout the world: Australia, New Zealand, the UK, India, Singapore, and more, traveling to a variety of wine regions in Australia. While many of them filled their glasses with self-perceived importance, I met one guy who stood out above the herd and showed me what being a wine journalist is all about.
His name is Peter Forrestal and he is a native of Perth, in Western Australia. Standing a sturdy 5’5″, with a face well-lined from miles of smiles and countless wines, he has crafted a career writing about wine. He is a columnist, the author of several books, a promoter of winemakers and their wines, and an advocate for consumers. He heads the committee that yearly decides which winemaker in Australia is deemed to be at the pinnacle of the profession and also heads the group that determines Australia’s best wine lists.
What sets Peter apart from others is his total lack of pretense, coupled with a dogged determination to know as much as he can about every wine produced in every vintage, in every region, in Australia. Consider that there are more than 2,400 registered wineries in a continent nearly as big as the United States, and you get an idea of just how big a task that is.
My first exposure to Forrie, as every one calls him, came on a tasting in the McLaren Vale region of Australia at a wonderful winery called Alpha, Box and Dice. Our group of journalists was shuttled to the farm/winery in a pair of super-swank Mercedes Benz busses. As we offloaded, nearly all of the winemakers assembled for a tasting of the region’s wine sought out Forrie for a hello. The women hugged and kissed him, and the men all gave him a hearty handshake.
“Who’s this guy?” I wondered.
In the barn, wine bottles were set on barrels with the winemakers standing next to them. With no commotion whatsoever, the guy who everybody knew set up his computer quietly in a corner, sat down and began to taste. Soon there were five, six, seven glasses in front of him. There must have been a dozen bottles. He dutifully took each wine, scanned it for flaws, swirled and stuck his nose deep into the glass, took a prodigious sip, tasted the wine deeply, spat it out and then dove into his computer, making notes.
As I watched this I was amazed at his intensity. But also I could see what a joy it was for him. There was banter with the winemakers as he and they smiled, laughed and joked during the tasting. I walked up behind him to see his screen. At the top there was a number. 32,812. When he tasted the next wine the number became 32,813.
Forrie had copious notes on close to 33,000 wines and was still going strong. His self-created tasting template included the price, the production numbers, the grapes, the name of the winemaker, the vintage and notes on the appearance, smell and taste of each wine. As I marveled, he explained that he could call up a list of wines by any of the ascribed criteria. This was a virtual encyclopedia of the last decade and a half of Australian wine.
Over the next few days I watched as he tasted and made notes. We must have been poured 300 wines or so in couple of days and Forrie noted all. But more than that, he worked the crowd. With a grace and ease he talked to winemakers about their regions, asked how their harvests were, how their dogs were. He got the lay of the land by simply being genuine and genuinely interested. He was a pleasure to watch as well as an inspiration.
My favorite Forrie story came on the second day of our tasting. I was with a young winemaker from a winery called First Drop, who had just poured me a sample of his Arneis, an Italian white varietal from Piedmont, not often grown or made in Australia. As Forrie walked up behind me he bellowed “Arneis! There’s only one of those in this entire country worth even trying!” The winemaker looked crestfallen as I took the bait. “Which one would that be, Forrie,” I asked. With a twinkle in his eye and a wink to the young winemaker he replied “Why f***ing First Drop, of course!”
The winemaker broke into a smile and I burst out laughing. We had both been Forrie-d.