Tony’s diary: Lockdown news from around our wine world

I asked our winemakers if they would write and tell us locked down people what it’s like where they are.

McPherson’s head winemaker Jo Nash, who makes our Full Fifteen, is in the middle of harvest just now but took the time to send this lovely note at 3am before going to work, from Avenal a small town in the middle of nowhere, Australia.

It captures the feeling of vintage perfectly but also the unique atmosphere  of the 2020…. A year we aren’t ever going to forget are we? 

The children are asleep, the house is quiet and I have a moment to myself before heading out to the winery. We’re in the last week of vintage, the morning air is cooling, and soft rain has started to fall – rain that would have been a disaster for us last week but is somehow comforting to hear this morning. 

A vintage for a changing world

When it’s quiet and still like this, it’s easy to think that it’s just another morning of just another vintage, but then I think of you out there, all fighting your own battles in your own ways, and remember that by the time you and I drink the 2020 Full Fifteen (the Cabernet grapes for this are being picked and brought into the winery this morning) my world and yours will be changed forever.

My vintage crew are all doing well, we have adopted some new practices but by and large our vintage days are much the same as every year.  We start early and work late, there are a lot of very unglamorous jobs like hauling hoses, cleaning bins – really physical hard work which makes for a great sleep at night and not much time to think about anything other than grapes and wine really. I wish you could somehow be here to see the grapes coming in – no picture will ever show you how beautiful it is to see them arriving to us at dawn.  There are many things I love about my job and that is definitely one of them.  Another is our people – don’t get me started on how important it is to me to make sure we all support our local community!  And during vintage we truly are a UN, or a circus, or a motley crew of friends from all over the world. In the end we are all the same. During the year we are a tight knit bunch, but during vintage our crew triples in size. And we love them all.

In the winery

“I’m pretty sure it’s not 3am where you are, so hopefully you’re opening a bottle of the 2019 Full Fifteen made in the previous year and sipping on a glass or two while you’re reading this. It connects us all. When you do open a bottle, think of us down here, in the vineyards in the still of the morning, in the winery with the big lights on while the truck brings the grapes in, and in the evening when I come home from work. I will walk into the kitchen and get showered with love by four stir crazy kids, a mad dog and a frazzled husband. We will spend time together, laugh, eat together, play games. Things will quieten down, and a bit later, before I get some sleep and start all over again, I will open a bottle and raise a glass to you all. We’re thinking of you.”

We’re getting news in from around the world … our wine world. This photo was posted by Bob Berton in Australia, social distancing himself from Jamie, his winemaker. 

Yes, well, Australia has the space to do serious distancing.

While in California …

In California, our Clare Tooley says she’s talking to suppliers on the west coast nearly every day. Most are worried, some sound hassled, two have been very upset by the impact on their team and business, one has marooned himself in his cabin in the snow in Tahoe, all are trying to find ways through this.

She told me:

Donati, our Paso Robles suppliers, family owned, say: ‘Thank you for reaching out, what crazy times we are in. I have to apologise for the delay in getting back to you, we have recently converted our distilling operations at the winery to begin producing hand sanitiser to meet the current need. We have been scrambling to secure materials and will be producing a couple of thousand cases in the next few weeks.

And the indefatigable Jean-Charles Boisset at Raymond winery in Napa is doing a Live Virtual Happy Hour at 6pm every night on Instagram and Facebook – difficult for you to tune in given the time difference. He starts with a dance party and then drinks his way through some delicious bottles, the idea being obviously to drink along with him. He was in the Red Room at Raymond on Saturday, complete with whips and a leopard skin hat!

Now there’s a thought.  Jean Charles has the weirdest and wackiest cellar on the planet. Perfectly normal set of tanks and barrels, that make superb wines from key vineyards in the Napa Valley … but for some reason it’s festooned with shop mannequins à la Las Vegas.

Takes your mind off things …

Tony Laithwaite


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We’re wine nuts, not wine snobs. We’ve been exploring the world on a mission to find great wine for the last 50 years. If you love adventure as much as we do, you belong with us. We know our winegrowers like family – and in some cases they actually are. Expect to hear from these legends of the soil, see behind the scenes access into vineyards and wineries and get news on fresh finds from our travels on this page. Drink responsibly. Visit for further health information. You must be aged 18 or over to follow.

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