On the 27th March 2018 Nelson lost one of its pioneering winemakers, Dr Dave Glover passed away.
Please excuse my indulgence in this column as I reflect on a man who taught me a huge amount about wine, I don’t want this to read like an obituary but I guess it is difficult not to in the circumstances.
With a doctorate in mathematics Dave had a fierce intellect, loved his family, sport and his cats, he enjoyed the finer things in life including aged Bordeaux wines and opera, he always had a huge smile at the ready, scoffed at fools and probably at people who didn’t agree with him too, but he was also determined to make the best wines he could and share his passion with anyone who would take the time to drop in to see him at his Upper Moutere winery, a winery he established in 1988 after planting the first vines in 1985.
Dave Glover was one of those characters who added soul to the wine industry and as the rest of New Zealand moved to screwcap closures Dave stuck with corks because he liked the affect they had on his wines as they aged, and he loved old wines.
When I looked back at my notes for a column I wrote about Dave in 2011 I found some great quotes from him, things that summed up his attitude to winemaking and life in general, one of my favourites was “I don’t care if people don’t like my wines, I make wines I like and if nobody wants to buy them there is just more for me to enjoy.”
With his usual dry sense of humour he also told me he didn’t release wines for sale until he thought they were ready for drinking, “People drink wine that is far too young so I won’t sell it until I think it is ready to drink, my bank manager doesn’t like it, but that’s just tough.”
This philosophy of making wines he liked to drink and releasing it when he said it is ok for drinking is reflected in other aspects of his wine making; several years ago we had a long discussion over a bottle of wine about the reviews another writer gave his wines at the time and his attitude was “there are plenty of good wines on the market but many of them are a bit ‘cookie cutter’ and I want to make something a little different, something interesting.”
What I find really interesting about that comment is that many winemakers around the world are now making wines in styles he was criticised for at the time.
One wine I reviewed in 2011 was his 2009 Rosé Fiamma (flame in Italian), a young wine by Glover standards; as Dave explained to me it was made using a method called maceration carbonique where whole bunches of grapes are dumped into large vats filled with carbon dioxide, the bottom grapes are crushed by the weight of the grapes above them, and fermentation starts naturally.
The result was a rosé that was rich with lovely depth of flavour but not at all sweet, I seem to remember many bottles were consumed at our place that summer.
This winemaking method is a very old technique and in recent years has been embraced by a whole new generation of winemakers, along with some older winemakers, as they try to make wines with tags like ‘funky’, ‘natural’ or ‘orange’, or wines with sulphide complexity; Dave was a leader of the pack, was criticised for making ‘strange wines’ at the time but now many others are doing the same thing and winning awards.
As his son and fellow winemaker Michael told me “if he was making those wines now he would be a rock star.”
While I loved Dave’s attitude of trying to produce something just a little different there were a few downsides; firstly, whenever I visited him, which wasn’t often enough, we would spend most of our time sampling trial wines from barrels that he made in small quantities “just to see what happens”.
As I would try to leave he would say “hang on, I’ve got something else you might like” and that would lead to another hour tasting and discussing wine, with me the very appreciative student, as I learned there is more to wine than just bright fruit flavours.
The second downside was that I got to taste some great wines from barrels but couldn’t buy them, incredibly frustrating!
The third downside is about being a small producer like Glovers, these days we tend to go to the supermarket and purchase by price first, variety second and name third, however in such a commodity driven market wines like those Dave Glover produced in small quantities didn’t make it to the supermarket shelves and I think that is a pity, Dave said to me “stuff the supermarkets, if people want my wines they can buy it from me” and there is something in me that liked that attitude.
He could be a stubborn bugger but he added colour and soul to a wine industry that many people see as losing some of its soul, particularly in the case of corporate producers.
Dave was one of the early pioneers of winemaking in the Nelson region alongside the Seifried and Finn families and will be missed by a huge number of people lucky enough to count him as a friend and colleague.
I am going to remember Dave Glover with huge fondness when I open a 9 litre bottle of his 1992 Pinot Noir with friends in a few weeks time, if you believe the personalised number plate TANNIN his car wore with pride then I am sure this wine will have stood the test of time, just as Dave intended.