In this interview we chat to Greg Sherwood, eminent London-based South African Master of Wine and Senior Fine Wine Buyer for Handford Wines. Best known for his wealth of knowledge and experience in the industry, Greg shares more about himself, his journey and the beautiful world of wine.
Greg, apart from being a respected SA Master of Wine, you are also regularly a judge at the Decanter World Wine Awards, SA Top 100, Nederburg Wine Auction & WOSA World Sommelier Awards, to only name a few… Tell us a bit more about the life of a respected Master of Wine, who has the opportunity to taste some of the world’s finest wines on a daily basis.
To many it may appear that I have close to the ultimate wine trade job… and in most respects, it is true. However, one must never forget that it took a lot of hard work, quite a bit of studying, immeasurable commitment and passion to get to where I am in the world of fine wine today. Once I realised that wine was my true calling, I decided to reset my compass and charted a life journey to try and reach the pinnacle of the wine trade. It certainly did not happen by coincidence – it was very carefully conceived. Now, I am fully immersed, tasting some of the greatest wines in the world daily. I am very fortunate indeed.
In what moment did you first realise your profound passion for wine?
I first realised that wine was my true calling whilst working as a commodity trader in South Africa. It was a fast moving, high stress environment. My outlet for relieving the stress and pressure endured was to immerse myself in studying the world of fine wine, and of course drinking some truly fine wines every now and then.
What did your journey into the world of wine look like?
My journey started with a 3-year Diploma, studying after work hours at the Cape Wine Academy in Johannesburg in 1997. Whilst working, and ultimately graduating 3 years later, I have come to know some really wonderful people in the local SA trade of which I have had the opportunity to study alongside. I then also realised very early on, that I wanted to study my Master of Wine, a decision which ultimately led to me returning back to London in 2000.
Any wise words to aspiring Master Sommeliers (MS) or Masters of Wine (MW)?
My advice to anyone contemplating studying MS or MW is that it is the greatest journey you will ever go on. The people you will meet and the friendships you will forge, will make the whole experience worthwhile. But most importantly, it needs to be a driving passion from within, otherwise the motivation might not be there to summit the top of your ‘Everest’!
When you dine out, what do you look for on a wine list of a restaurant to consider it a great assemblage?
I drive my wife crazy with the amount of time I take pouring over a wine list in a restaurant which has an intelligently compiled selection. I think I subconsciously am always looking for the fine wine bargain or at the very least, a sexy unicorn bottle from a producer who devotes most of their rarer release allocations to the on-trade. A great list should mix the classics with a well-chosen eclectic selection that suits the restaurant’s cuisine.
How did you come to know of De Toren’s wines?
Once completing my wine diploma in 2000 I returned to the UK. By that time, De Toren Private Cellar had just released the 1999 maiden vintage of the De Toren Fusion V. Since I missed the whole show in SA, on a return trip back home for the holidays, close wine collector friends of mine gave me a bottle of De Toren Fusion V 1999 for my birthday. As it turns out, I did manage to buy and sell a small amount of this Bordeaux-style blend’s lovely maiden vintage release in the UK… and have bought and sold every subsequent release since then. But there is nothing like tasting a maiden vintage – especially when it is a wine that has taken the market by storm!
Which De Toren wine is your personal favourite & why?
I can quite honestly say I love every single vintage release of the De Toren Fusion V, including the lighter, more elegant vintages like the 2008 or the 2012 vintage. I do like to purchase wines for further maturation and therefore my favourites tend to be the block buster vintages that I know I can cellar with confidence for over a decade or more, such as the 2004, 2006, 2009, and the 2015 vintage. All great vintages which I think are still to reach their quality zenith!
Any memorable moment you remember sharing with De Toren?
My most memorable De Toren moment must be my visit to the winery. After a long day of walking through the vineyards and tasting barrel samples, the Cellar Master and now Managing Partner, Albie Koch took me into the cellar’s vinoteque and ultimately gave me the opportunity to choose any bottle of De Toren wine for lunch. I did not know where to start. So, in the end I chose a bottle of De Toren Fusion V Director’s Reserve 2009 – a wine I had never had the chance of tasting before. Over lunch, we rather thoroughly enjoyed this beautiful blend with an exquisitely tender steak. Currently, I have a case of the De Toren Fusion V 2009 still in storage and I am looking very much forward to drinking this one day!
Which of the South African wine vintage(s) would you recommend to enthusiasts & collectors to potentially invest in and why this specific vintage(s)?
There have been several great South African vintages over the past years such as the 2004, 2006, and 2009 vintage. However, nothing can be compared to SA’s reputable 2015 vintage, specifically for reds. I have not tasted quite enough 2017 vintage red wines yet to be conclusive, but the barrel samples I have tried, lead me to believe this might be a vintage comparable to the 2015’s quality for many producers. I myself do invest in SA wines quite often and will continue to do so, as many have already shown excellent growth in value over the years.
It truly seems your career is going from strength to strength. So, where to next for you as esteemed Master of Wine?
In 2018, South Africa saw the creation of several fine wine investment funds in the local SA market. This will inevitably have an effect on the international investor market, as you can’t have a thriving international secondary trading environment if one does not exist in the home market. This is all changing now and I look forward to playing a key role internationally in applying my experience to place as many great age worthy SA wines from top producers in my private client’s cellars. Not only will they see excellent returns, but the wines will age gracefully and ultimately reward their patience… whether they choose to drink up or sell up further down the road. Exciting times lie ahead!
Greg, you are a true inspiration to young, aspiring Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine out there… Thank you for chatting to us and we wish you all the best with your future endeavours!