This site is now closed
and has been left here
for historical reference
© Ric Einstein 2009
Campbell Mattinson -
The first time I ever wrote a word publicly on
wine, Ric Einstein responded almost immediately. Anyone who has spent any
time in the online world of wine over the past 10 years, will not only have
heard of his name – or his moniker, TORB (The Opinionated Red Bigot) –
but will not be surprised to hear this: in that first contact, he challenged me.
Now you are getting difficult, I am not a winemaker. Great wine is made in the
vineyard, so I would try and obtain a well tended vineyard with old vines and a
viticulturalist that really knew what they were doing. In terms of the areas, if
I wanted Cabernet it would be from Coonawarra but if it was a Shiraz, I would
probably go for Great Western, one of the cooler areas of the Barossa, or the
More than that: he asked me to back up my opinion. If I thought wine was a
casual pastime, or that wine was a sitting duck to a bit of romantic posturing –
Ric Einstein let me know from the start that it could be that … but it couldn’t
be full of bull. You had to back it up. You had to tell it straight.
If this was all there was to Ric Einstein – if he was just a ball of
off-the-cuff opinions – he would have disappeared from view long ago. Bluster
always blows itself out. But there is another side to Ric Einstein, and here’s
where he gets interesting.
After Ric Einstein has stuck the knife in, he’ll then care whether or not it
This is another way of saying that Ric also cares – he might even care too much
at times. Ric Einstein is a big burly blustering man who gets the back up of
many folks, but he can also – and to some this might seem hard to believe –
tread softly. Get between him and an ill-treated animal and you’ll have a fight
on your hands. I’ve had email conversations with him behind the scenes where
he’s conceded as much as he’s given – Ric Einstein does have the ability.
He’ll bite your head off – but if you keep talking, he’ll let you put your head
An anecdote: there was a time some years ago now when Ric was a senior player at
the multi-major IBM company, at a time when IBM was at its most powerful, and
then Ric moved to a senior executive position in London with another computer
company. He was a workaholic and reaped the appropriate financial rewards – but
he knew that if he kept going his health would suffer, and instead of going on
blindly he opted for the tree-change (to Berrima in NSW) before the phrase had
been invented. He had to find himself work though, of some sort, so he hit on
the idea of a pet shop – called Animal Magnetism. He was a member of the NSW Pet
Industry Association, and he wanted to sell pure breed dogs in his shop and have
the blessing of the NSW Canine Council. This was a problem. The Canine Council
didn't want to have a bar of it – they didn’t like pet shops. To stop Ric and
others with similar ideas they came up with an accreditation plan that was so
strict that it would be impossible for any pet shop to meet its guidelines. That
was supposed to be that.
But do you reckon someone who would later call himself The Opinionated Red Bigot
would be beaten that easy?
He’s been selling pure breed dogs in his shop for over a decade now.
That, folks, is Ric Einstein for you.
Take this personality and add to it both the internet age and his long love of
wine – and you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to guess that big red wine would
be his main bent, and that he’s want to shout his love for it from the rooftops
– that he would be unashamed in his conviction that the only proper colour for
wine is red-black-purple, and that if you can ‘see-though’ it then it bloody
better have bubbles in it.
He is a bigot after all.
And he is determined – every time I look at his site I’m amazed at how much work
goes into it – without any financial reward. I asked him recently if he ever got
tired of it: “The spark is certainly still there, and to a great extent that is
what keeps me going. Along my wine journey, I have met many incredibly generous
people who have freely shared their knowledge and their hospitality with me. All
I am doing is trying to give back a little of what I have received.
“The greatest gratification comes,” he continued, “from unsolicited e-mails like
one I received recently. It was from a guy in the UK who had been approached by
a firm trying to get him to invest in wine. Whilst he was on the phone to them,
he did a Google search and found the article I had recently written about the
pitfalls of wine investment. He e-mailed me to thank me for saving his money.
“The aspect of it all I enjoy most though are the wine trips, even more so now
that I have characters like Red Bigot, The Pie King and Dr Davo tagging along.
They are great fun and whilst typing the stories up is an enormous amount of
work, it is a challenging task that keeps my mind active.”
I then put a number of questions to him:
QUESTION: What wines get you excited these days, and have the
characteristics of those wines changed at all over the years? Are you looking
for different things?
ANSWER: You mean besides a five foot ten blonde with big intelligence?
Sorry, I didn't see the word wine in the question. The wines that get me most
excited are those with perfect synergy. Normally those wines have some aged
characteristics, have perfect balance, excellent length and persistence, and
above all complexity. Many young wines may be technically perfect, squeaky
clean, and have excellent complexity but they are so technically perfect they
are as boring as bat turd.
Structure has always been in important aspect of wine and something I regard
highly, so this hasn't changed.
QUESTION: The Australian wine industry is either in crisis or on the
crest of a wave, depending on which end you look at. What do you think is the
single greatest threat to the quality perception of Australian wine?
ANSWER: That's an excellent question. At the low-end, we are on the crest
of a wave and our exports are doing brilliantly. However, thanks to the success
of wines like Yellow Tail, there is a drive for the bottom of the market and
that can easily lead to disaster. The dollar per litre value of our exports has
been dropping for a number of years. The only way you can be profitable at this
end of the market is to be the lowest cost producer, but as soon as somebody can
undercut you and sell the wine cheaper, you lose market share. There is zero
brand loyalty at this end of the market and as soon as somebody can sell a
product that is as good, for one cent less, you're in trouble.
In the segment above the bottom end of the market and into the premium range,
Australian producers are doing very well with brands like Lindemans and Jacobs
Creek, however we need to be vigilant as other countries are starting to produce
better wine and the competition in this area will hot up.
At the top end things are interesting. Whilst we produce some excellent wine,
and our big South Australian reds are unique, other than a handful of wines, we
are not regarded as serious players on the iconic world stage. Coinciding with
the 1998 vintage, and very much thanks to the positive publicity from Robert
Parker, in the US Australian wines became flavour of the month. Unfortunately
being "the in thing" whilst good when it's happening is a short-term fix and not
a long-term solution. As an industry, at the very top end we need more wines
that are recognised throughout the world as iconic. That will lift the image of
the whole Australian segment.
QUESTION: In all your years of wine drinking, are there any wines that
really stand out as beacons/benchmarks?
ANSWER: An interesting question, but one that is not easy to answer! The
obvious answer is Grange but that's too easy. There has been more change in the
wine industry in the last 10 years than there has been in the last 200. No one
can keep up with the proliferation of new wineries and brands, so the target is
continually moving. To make matters more difficult, some wineries are changing
the style of their wines, for example the 1998 Grange was more approachable on
release than previous vintages.
In terms of Cabernet Sauvignon, the benchmarks would be, in no particular order,
Moss Wood, Cullen, Bin 707, Petaluma Coonawarra and up until the mid-90s John
Shiraz and Shiraz blends are the most difficult to pin down as so many of these
change. Hill of Grace (excluding a blip,) Orlando Lawson up until 1996, Bin 389
till 1996, St Henry, Tim Adams Aberfeldy, and the Yalumba Signature would have
all been contenders in the past, but now there are so many new players like
Kaesler Old Vines, Seppelts St Peters and Bests Thomson etc.
QUESTION: Have there been any wines that have really surprised you - in a
positive or negative way?
ANSWER: There have been some wonderful surprises; Balnaves, Burge Family,
Classic McLaren, Gralyn, Kaesler, Kilikanoon, Majella, Picardy, Veritas and
Winter Creek to name just a few. All of these are wineries that I've found in
the last ten or so years and have been very impressed with.
In terms of the negatives, funnily enough most of them are medium to large
wineries that have lost the plot, undertaken massive changes to their styles, or
jacked up the prices of my favourite wines to the point where they are no longer
Stylistically, Peter Lehmann produces some of the best value wines at the low
cost end of things, but their more expensive wines are stylistically completely
inconsistent, not only from vintage to vintage, but across the range. Instead of
trying to slowly fine tune, they take a particular wine and completely change
the style overnight. If you pick the Eight Songs as an example, the changes are
In terms of quality, what Wynns did in Coonawarra borders on the criminal. They
completely wrecked the vines and for many years put out substandard wine and
tarnished a wonderful reputation.
In terms of pricing, for more years than I care to remember Bin 389 was a staple
wine in my cellar and one I would regularly choose in restaurants that had a
poor wine lists. Between 1997 and 2003 inclusive, painfully few of the releases
have been to the standard of the vintage, and with the resources available to
Southcorp, they should have been able to do better. Add to that the current
recommended retail price, and the wine looks like poor value. Some pundits would
argue and talk about the “special price on release” but in reality, that is not
a valid argument as the discounted price is not the long-term price and can only
be offered by large retailers that buy in huge bulk.
QUESTION: Is any level of brettanomyces in a wine acceptable?
ANSWER: From what I understand, the incidence of Brett peaked in the 2002
vintage and whilst I'm not particularly fond of it, there is a bigger problem;
corks. Brett in low levels can add complexity but unfortunately it's like
playing Russian roulette. It varies from bottle the bottle, less than perfect
storage conditions can cause it to bloom and from my perspective, wineries
should avoid it like a dose of the pox.
Screwcaps are not the universal solution and perfect panacea that some people
claim, however with corks ruining about one in twelve bottles with cork taint or
oxidisation, I'm thoroughly sick of them wrecking wine.
QUESTION: Hypothetical: if you were going to try to make your ideal wine,
how would you go about it? Where would you grow the grapes, what level would you
crop them, oak, whole bunches, grape variety(s) etc?
In terms of cropping level, as long as the vines were in balance that's the main
thing, but I would hope that the levels would be two tonne to the acre or less.
The oak would be the tightest grained, best quality French oak that money could
buy, and the toast level fairly low. I would like the oak to support the fruit,
not the other way round, so some of it may be older oak.
QUESTION: Has there ever been anything in your life that is as
all-consuming as wine is to you today? If it wasn't wine, what might it have
ANSWER: I can answer that question in one word, “work.” When I was in the
corporate world I was a workaholic, 55 hours would be a short week. When I
decided to get a life, I had plenty of time on my hands and wine became a
consuming passion, but it is not the only one. I also love reading and spend
vast amounts of time doing that too. If it wasn't wine, it would have been food.
QUESTION: In your own wine collection, are there any wine styles that you
wish you'd bought more of?
ANSWER: Looking back and thinking gee, “I wish I would have done that,”
is simply not in my nature. I make decisions and am happy to live with the
consequences, good or bad. You enjoy the good ones, and learn from the bad ones
and try not to make the same mistake again.
QUESTION: If you had to anoint one winery as 'To My personal taste, This
Winery is My Favourite', which winery would it be?
ANSWER: I absolutely detest lists like the best ten, my top five wines of
the year etc because to my way of thinking they are completely meaningless. Wine
is a completely subjective experience that is influenced by an enormous number
of factors including your mood, the temperature, who you are with, the influence
of food and so the list goes on.
Twenty years ago that winery would have been Penfolds. Five years ago it would
have probably been Orlando, with multiple vintages of St Hugo, Lawson, Jacaranda
Ridge, Jacobs Creek Limited and Centenary Hill. If I look at the wineries that I
now have most bottles of, they would include Rockford, Veritas, Kays, Wendouree,
Seppelt, Majella, Turkey Flat etc.
That was the end of the interview – and then Ric said a very interesting thing.
“The reality is that no one winery does it for me as a fixed entity; variety is
the spice of life, even for red bigots.”
Ric Einstein is at times painted, in a bigoted way, as an astonishing display of
a one track mind – when it comes to wine. It’s actually not quite true. There’s
more to Ric Einstein than quite meets the eye.
If you would like to read more about my wine
journey, there is more here.
© Campbell Mattinson 2006