Interview With A Winemaker – Darren Smith
17th February 2023
Wine isn’t just made, it’s crafted by the unwavering expertise of a Winemaker, sometimes old traditions are passed down by generations and on other occasions, new people venture into the industry, introducing us to new creations, this series of Winemaker Interviews will help you uncover the vast world and skills of how the artists passionate about wine make the world a bubbly place.
In this article we speak with Darren Smith, an amazing Winemaker from England with an international display, let’s discover a little about his time in the Wine Industry.
Who Are You, Darren Smith?
“I’m a winemaker and wine writer. I’ve worked as a freelance wine writer for a few years and since 2018 I’ve had my own nomadic winemaking project: The Finest Wines Available to Humanity (a nod to my favourite film, Withnail & I). I collaborate with other winemakers I like, working on the grape harvests in the northern and southern hemispheres to produce one-off low-intervention wines that shine a light on lesser-known grape varieties and regions. So far I’ve made wine in Spain, Portugal, the Canary Islands, south Chile, Peru and Georgia. I also import a few wines from other winemakers – currently from south Chile and Georgia.”
How Did You Become Involved In The Wine Industry?
“I’ve written about wine for a few years but I always wanted to escape the 9-5 and get my hands dirty. I volunteered to pick grapes here and there for a bit, then in 2018 I did an internship with Niepoort Vinhos. That turned out to be a very good move. Niepoort is one of the best places in the world for an aspiring winemaker to gain experience. I got to work at the family estates in the Douro Valley, Dao and Bairrada. In Bairrada Dirk Niepoort allowed me to make by own baga – the first wine of my nomadic winemaking project, which was an extraordinarily generous thing. I’ll always be grateful to Dirk and the Niepoort team for that.”
As A Winemaker, What Has Been Your Hardest Obstacle To Overcome In Producing Wine?
“The winemaking itself is relatively easy and I’ve been fortunate to work with lots of generous, open-minded winemakers for my project, who have made the process as straight-forward as possible – helping me find the best vineyard sites for my grapes, or looking after my wines for me when I’m not there, for example. But it’s all the other bits that feel an obstacle: sales, logistics, the enormous costs involved – all those (to me at least) painful but necessary elements which need to be in place and executed well in order to make a wine business successful. I do everything myself. I can do the winemaking, and I can write and talk about what I’m doing easily enough. Everything else is like pulling teeth.”
How Do You Determine When Your Wine Is Ready To Drink?
“How much I enjoy the wine when I taste it, and whether there is anything that is spoiling or obstructing my enjoyment – be it harsh tannins, VA or whatever. Of course there’s also the economic factor: I need regular income in order to pay for the new wines I’m making, so it’s hard for me to leave wines to mature for longer than, say, a year. My 2018 baga, which was aged in barrel for two years, and my 2019 La Palma listan blanco (18 months) were exceptions owing to the inertia of the pandemic (they both worked out very well though!). And I have a 2021 qvevri tsolikouri, made with Baia’s Wine in Imereti), which I’m leaving for a bit longer because qvevri skin-contact wines seem to need that bit longer to settle into themselves.”
What Part Of The Wine Making Process Do You Enjoy The Most?
“I would say the harvest, but with my creaking middle-aged body that tends to be more pain than a pleasure. I love being in the cellar during harvest, smelling the fermentations; then I also love tasting the wines as they mature, seeing how they develop, in which directions they are turning. I’m still learning as a winemaker so there are always surprises – not all of them bad!”
Thank you Darren, for sharing your words, knowledge and experience with us and we at Glass of Bubbly wish you the very best for the future!
Images belong to Darren Smith. Glass of Bubbly was granted permission to use them.
Champagne and Sparkling Wine Writer, Focused on Bringing the Exciting and Fascinating World of Bubbly to You.