On Irreverence and Rebellion – In Conversation with Nigel Greening & Elin McCoy

Nigel Greening abandoned the marketing world in the early 2000’s to purchase land to plant vines in Bannockburn, New Zealand, he acquired Felton Road, then just three vintages old, that he now manages and runs.

This conversation is an adapted transcript of the panel On Luxury – Creating the Exceptional, moderated by Elin Mc Coy. held during the third edition of FM4FW, Bordeaux, July 2019

Elin Mc Coy: Nigel, Felton Road, a winery started only two decades ago, is with no doubt a reference for New Zealand Fine Wines. What was your motivation, your intention, when creating this winery? Were you aiming to create a luxury wine?

Nigel Greening: Luxury has different connotations for all of us, and our perception of luxury will differ even more tomorrow. Luxury for me is getting up in the morning and putting on shorts and a t-shirt because I don’t have to conform to any dress code, and if I want to think about uber-luxury, then maybe a cup of good coffee in silence before the world wakes up.

We see the world changing, changing us in the process and while we can spend some time thinking about how to accommodate these changes, I think that luxury can be the opposite:

Luxury is the ability to ignore that change and swim against the current. Luxury is the ability to do things slowly in a world which is all about speed. Luxury is the ability to embrace craft in a world of robot manufacturing. Luxury is the ability to do what the future forbids.

What I’ve wanted, all my adult life, has been to create my own form of autonomy, not associating it with material belongings but with a set of values, with not only the capacity but the right to be able to say: “The hell with it, I am not going that way.” Doesn’t sound much like Fine Wine, does it?

Elin: In other words, keep it true! It seems that this philosophy is highly relevant today, and could help reaching a new generation of consumers. Do you think they have a different definition of what is exceptional in wine?

Nigel: I get excited when I see irreverence, both in new consumers and new producers. This is fantastic, because we should never be reverent about Fine Wine. It is great… it is wonderful, but it’s a beverage. Do not let anybody say anything different: it is not an investment, a currency, it’s something we open and enjoy. I enjoy the natural wine movement for this, even though I’m not crazy about their wines. It is subversive and irreverent, two criteria that are rarely associated with Fine Wine. But as it is not your traditional Grand Cru celebration, it engages with a new generation of consumers that do not want to drink what their parents drunk.

Elin: Birkenstock and designer boots versus suits and ties! Can subversiveness and irreverence co-exist with high quality?

Nigel : Yes of course. Look at Mitjaville, Leroy… Globally, a significant number of young people have been entering the world of wine through natural wine — also high quality wine on tap — and they have been entering it through quite a high price point, if that could be any sign of high quality.

But biodynamics and Fine Wine; they are unlikely bedfellows aren’t they? The natural movement is indeed different from what I am doing (though as a biodynamic, minimal intervention winery we are natural too in the way we work) and there is a section of natural wine that we might find hard to drink. But I buy an unsulfured Grenache that I keep at home for people that are interested in finding new ideas in wine, and this is just a Wow! moment for them… so good and so drinkable. Where did that bottle go! It is amazing the eye opener effect it has on drinkability.

They might never choose to explore my side of wine, but they will experience another kind of quality and something they see as unique and special.