Saturday 20 October 2018

James Busby Travel: ‘What the wine world needs now is love, sweet love’

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The James Busby Travel trip is about to kick off in Melbourne – our traditional first stop is William Downie’s farm in Gippsland for Bill’s home grown Pinot, pig and philosophy.

That word tradition kept cropping up while I’ve been planning this year’s itinerary. But with almost 10 years under our belt, 11 tours and 135 past travellers in our alumni community, I guess we do have traditions now.

It’s one-in, one-out for producers these days. I’ll remain loyal to those individuals who backed me in 2010, when it was just a crazy idea of how to create the ultimate trade tour, free of the compromises tied into state, regional or government funding, a tour designed by the wineries for the wineries, aimed at introducing Australian wine to the new generation of somms and buyers, and with commercial outcomes built into its DNA.

Back in 2010 Michael Dhillon told our first group that the international markets had fallen out of love with Australian wine. He was right, sales were at their nadir, grape prices low and everyone was hurting.

What a difference a decade makes.

I’d like to think that in our quiet way, the Busby trips have played their part in helping bring back the love. It’s not been easy doing it our way, one bottle at a time, one person at a time, hearts and minds. But I think that’s pretty bloody cool.

This year’s group of guests is as international as ever, with representatives from Canada, the US, UK, Sweden, Norway and China. The reputation of the Busby trips overseas is now a drawcard that allows us to attract the world’s top wine professionals.

This year’s group includes the beverage director for Hakkasan Restaurant Group North America, the head sommelier of the Joel Robuchon Group in China, an MW in charge of the buying program at Altia, one of the Nordics largest wine companies, the head sommelier for London’s highest profile wine club, 67 Pall Mal, as well as the MD of one of China’s most successful online wine companies, Vinehoo.

These days the Busby trips have a three year waiting list, and in markets such as China it’s a sign of significant status to have been invited on a Busby trip.

Over the two weeks of the trip we’ll visit 13 wine regions, meet with 64 individual wineries and taste somewhere in the region of 500 wines. We’re including more experiential and recreational activities than ever before, from surfing in the Mornington Peninsula, cycling the Riesling Trail, Kegel Bowling in the Barossa, squid fishing in McLaren Vale, clay shooting in the Eden Valley, beach cricket at Port Willunga and skateboarding in the Adelaide Hills.

We’ve learnt that long after the tasting notes get forgotten, it’s these cultural activites that stay longest in the memory and shape the legacy of the trip. Because after all, it’s not about the wine, it’s about the people; the hundreds of winemakers, chefs, boat skippers, sommeliers and bottle washers who create magic every year and make our guests fall in love with Australia and its wine.

You can follow this year’s trip on Instagram with the hashtag #JBT18. We’ve got big plans for the 10 year anniversary in 2019, and I’m already looking forward to the next 10.

James Busby Travel group 2018

1. Terry Kandylis, head sommelier, 67 Pall Mall, London
2. Leah Kirkland, general manager, Trinity Restaurant, London
3. Fredrik Lindfors, head sommelier, The Grand Hotel, Stockholm, Sweden
4. Julie Nyheim MW, business development director, Altia Group, Norway
5. Arneis Wu, head sommelier of Joel Robuchon China Group
6. Olivier Zhou, managing director, Vinhoo, Shanghai
7. Shera Cui, wine director, Penguin Guide Wine Club, Shanghai
8. Bobby Conroy, wine director, The Clocktower NYC, New York
9. Jeffrey Bencus, lead sommelier, LAGO, Bellagio Resort, Las Vegas
10. Constantin Alexander, director of beverage, Hakkasan Group US
11. Matty Leslie, wine buyer, Model Milk and Pigeonhole Restaurants, Calgary

Tim Wildman MW is the owner-operator of James Busby Travel. Email tim@jamesbusbytravel.com

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