This Sunday morning at 10am a coach will pull up outside The Atlantis Hotel in Melbourne. I’ll get onto it with 10 strangers from around the world and we’ll leave the city heading east, first stop an al fresco lunch under the trees above Bill Downie’s close planted pinot vineyard at Guendulain Farm in Gippsland.
Two weeks later we’ll be BBQ’ing under the stars in the Basket Range with tunes pumping out from Brendan Keys’ decks and those 10 strangers will be best friends for life.
In the previous fortnight we’ll have covered two states, visited 13 regions, met with 53 wineries and tasted just under 500 wines, and those 10 wine professionals will be heading back to their home markets with a radically altered perception of the Australian wine scene. We’ll have 10 new ambassadors to add to the 114 that already make up the James Busby Travel Alumni Community.
This will be the eighth year of the James Busby Travel trips, and the ninth tour. The project has been an incredible roller coaster ride over the past eight years, and a remarkable testament to the collaborative effort of almost one hundred Australian producers who have taken part over that time.
As the market changes, so do the trips. In the early years the aim was to show our guests that there was life beyond critter brands. It was tough to get the attention of somms in the US in those early days, such was the lack of interest in Australia wine. Now they’re queuing up and we’ve a waiting list of hundreds.
There’s a lot happening around the Busby campfire right now: 2018 will see the first joint venture trip in collaboration with Wine Australia. This will be an additional trip to the annual calendar, with an ambitious and exciting tour taking us across five states in two weeks including regions not often reached by overseas visitors including Canberra, Beechworth, Tasmania and Great Southern. The trip, codename ‘Beyond Busby’, has been developed as an advanced tour and will include a number of buyers from previous Busby tours, the best-of-the-best from our Alumni Community.
2019 will mark the tenth anniversary of the tours, and there are plans for a ‘Winemaker Only Busby Tour’, something often discussed, but which will finally happen to mark the 10 year milestone.
For the time being the focus is on the next two weeks and giving our overseas guests the trip of a lifetime. Changing attitudes one bottle at a time. That’s always been the Busby motto. And as we learn to do it better each year so the non-wine aspects get better as well, the food, the coffee, the lifestyle, activity and cultural experiences, everything that adds up to something much more than just a great wine trip.
And those friendships, forged on the back of a bus across 3,000 kilometres, are the legacy of the trips. A community of global wine professionals who made friendships between each other and the winemakers they meet that will last a lifetime. Because after all, it’s not about the wine, it’s about the people.
Follow the trip for the next two weeks across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter with the hashtag #JBT17.
This year’s James Busby Travel group:
Laure Patry – Executive Head Sommelier, Jason Atherton’s The Social Company, London.
Stefan Neumann MS – Head Sommelier, Dinner by Heston at The Mandarin Oriental, London.
Pierre-Emmanuel Marchés – Product Manager, Fondberg, Oslo, Norway.
Sören Polonius – Head Sommelier, Esperanto Group, Stockholm, Sweden.
Ben Cheung – Buyer and Brand Manager, Watson’s, Hong Kong.
Claudia Masüger – Founder and CEO, CHEERS Wine, Beijing, China.
Chloe Helfand – Lead Sommelier, SLS Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas.
Kat Thomas – Sommelier, Hakkasan, Las Vegas.
Dave Smith – Director of Buying, Everything Wine, Vancouver, BC, Canada.
Andrew Stewart – Wine Director, Teatro Group, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Tim Wildman MW is the director of James Busby Travel.