Wine documentary a lost opportunity

Sam Neill in National Geographic’s Great Innovators: The Rise of Australian Wine. (Photo: National Geographic)

A rather bizarre documentary was screened on TV recently, titled Great Innovators: The Rise of Australian Wine. It was shown on the National Geographic channel twice in a week. The first oddity was that it was hosted by Sam Neill, a cherished New Zealand actor and wine producer.

This program was a lost opportunity to more widely recognise inventiveness.

As much as I love Sam Neill’s work, it was an odd choice for a program about Australian wine. Even odder was that the program opens in his vineyard in New Zealand – as he welcomes Penfolds chief winemaker Peter Gago, and the two engage in some mutual admiration. This is the second weirdness: the way Penfolds dominated the program. Indeed, it was not a history of Australian wine innovators at all, more like a giant ad for Penfolds. The amount of screen-time spent on their recorking clinics alone was way out of balance.

And with the amount of time spent on Grange and its creator, the great Max Schubert, a viewer might conclude that Schubert was the only innovator the Australian wine industry had ever produced.

I don’t recall any mention of Maurice O’Shea, Wolf Blass, Ian Hickinbotham, John Vickery, the Gramp family of Orlando and their work with white wine fermentation, or the Seppelts and their contribution to fortified wine. Cyril Henschke and his pioneering of single-vineyard shiraz and riesling in the 1950s; Rudi Kronberger, the great riesling maker and mentor to many at Yalumba. Ron Potter, inventor of the Potter fermenter; David Wynn and his innovative marketing.

What of the innovative viticulturists, such as Richard Smart with his canopy management work, and the many ground-breaking works of the Australian Wine Research Institute.

Yes, Ray Beckwith and his work on pH were mentioned, but that’s Penfolds again.

The two unique Australian wine styles, Rutherglen muscat and Hunter Valley semillon, and the people who created these iconic wines, could also have been mentioned at least in passing.

This program was a lost opportunity to more widely recognise inventiveness.

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