10 minutes with: Jim White

The technical director of Cloudy Bay talks about his role at the winery based in New Zealand.

Jim White, technical director of Cloudy Bay (Photo: Cloudy Bay)

Options: How has your new position as technical director been treating you?
Jim White
: Really, it’s been a learning curve for me because the role didn’t exist before I took it on. I’ve been at Cloudy Bay for eight years so I guess I know the place and I’m part of the furniture at the business. What I’ve come to realise is that it’s much more of a leadership role and it’s about providing strategic direction to my two teams — vineyards and winery. I guess I’ve worked with winemakers for five or six years in their time at Cloudy Bay and the vineyard team, at varying levels, between three and four years and back to eight years, so I’ve got a really good relationship with everyone. I guess my role is now to provide that vision and to excite my teams more and provide the goals that push everyone a bit harder with the ultimate aim of making good quality wines.

What are your long-term and short-term goals as technical director?
In the short term, it’s just been establishing the position and working out what my job is actually meant to be. Longer term, I think we’re very keen on pushing forward with plans to slowly evolve the wines over time. We’ve got some exciting building projects going on. We have been working with an architect over the last couple of months and we’ve finalised plans now to renovate the original part of the Cloudy Bay winery, which used to have tanks in it, then it became our Pinot Noir cellar. For the last two or three years, it’s just had barrels stored in it. It’s an important part of the history and DNA of Cloudy Bay. We’re going to turn that into a craft centre so it will be a home of where we are going to make Te Koko. So we’re going to introduce lots of large format oak barrels, some concrete tanks, to give us the tools to take Te Koko off to a whole other level of quality and style. But at the same time, we’re building in a bit of history into that building, so we’re building a wine museum where we’re going to hold, in that traditional Bordeaux style, all the old back vintages of Cloudy Bay... And integrate that whole thing to the public into the Cellar Doors so that the people who visit Cellar Door can get a literal feel for the wine-making process and to see a cellar in action.


What has been your most significant career moment so far?
I don’t know if there’s only one standout moment. For me, probably the phone call that said ‘Hey, we’d like you to be in New Zealand on Friday’, eight, nine years ago was the most significant moment because it gave me the opportunity. From then on, it’s been riding the ups and downs of the various seasons and becoming part of the history of Cloudy Bay.

What do you like most about your job?
I like the challenges with mother nature. She can be a cruel and kind master sometimes and I like the fact that you have to be dynamic and nimble, but you also have to be measured and thoughtful in what you do. It’s trying to find the balance between those elements. In our business, what’s great is the fact that quality is what we aim to achieve. Having  to make sacrifices along the way and sometimes, mother nature means you have some collateral damage, some grapes you can’t harvest or wines you can’t include in your blend. For me, that’s the beauty of wine. You can never make the same wine twice and every wine you make is a representation of not only the season but the people you’re working with and I think we can never forget that people element in wine.

How do you like to unwind after work?
For me, skiing as much as possible. We’ve got a little mountain just an hour-and-a-half’s drive from home. So, taking the kids up every Sunday, helping them to learn to ski, and for me, just roaring down a mountainside like a teenager is really nice to do.


This article first appeared on Jan 21, 2019 in The Edge Malaysia.


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