How Do Celebrities Blend Wine? St Hugo’s Peter Munro on Virtual Blending with F1’s Daniel Ricciardo

How Do Celebrities Blend Wine? St Hugo’s Peter Munro on Virtual Blending with F1’s Daniel Ricciardo

DR3 Wine

With eight Grand Prix victories to his name, Australian Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo is no stranger to the champion’s circle. The 33 year-old — who will drive for Red Bull Racing starting in 2023 — is also a lifelong wine fanatic, an interest sparked by his father, who emigrated from Italy.

Over the past two years, he’s teamed up with Australian winemaker St Hugo on a series of curated blends formulated in part by Ricciardo himself. The series — dubbed DR3 x St Hugo — features both a Coonawarra Cabernet and Australian Shiraz.

I sat down with Peter Munro, St Hugo’s Head Winemaker, to talk about the triumphs and challenges of partnering with celebrities on custom releases, along with a rundown of their guest blending process. Is the DR3 collaboration one Munro considers a victory lap, or just a warmup?

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for readability.

Drinkhacker: How were the expressions in the collaboration chosen?

Peter Munro: Shiraz and Cabernet are the strength of St Hugo. Obviously, Australian wine is very well known for Shiraz and for Cabernet. Cabernet is the beginning of St Hugo as a brand. So when St Hugo started 43 years ago, we only made one wine for the first 30 years, and that was a Cabernet. Where our home is, which is in the Barossa, is very much the home of Shiraz in Australia. For the last 10 or 15 years, we’ve produced Shiraz from the Barossa, and they are the two key varieties for St Hugo.

Drinkhacker: What was the collaboration process like with Daniel? How hands on was he, and how specifically was he involved in the blending and the final expressions?

Peter Munro: I narrowed down the parcels. We keep all these parcels separate throughout the winery. And I narrowed down the parcels to six parcels. I said, “Well, these can, make the Shiraz,” for example. I sent them over to Los Angeles to him, while I was still at home. This was COVID times. And we did a tasting via Zoom, going through the process like I would do with all my winemakers, a normal process where we taste the different parcels. Together we ask, “What does this bring to the blend?” I sent him over the test tubes, measuring cylinders, and everything. So I made him do work, and he was making up the blend himself just as I was making up the blend in the process.

And we kind of got to a happy spot with the Shiraz and he was like, “I just want it to be a bit more generous, a bit more fruit driven.” I put him on the spot at the start. I said, taste the six wines. Taste wine number 1, what does he think it is? You tell me what you think it gives to the wine. And he was pretty spot on. And so I said, well, we know which parcel gives us this breadth. We can up that volume a little bit.

I said let’s not go over the top. We just want to make it a little bit bigger. So we did another blend and to be fair, we ended up on a blend that if I’d done it by myself, it would’ve looked different than the spot we got to with Daniel. I think that’s because I have very much a structural sense of making everything work. And he wanted that bit more velocity and breadth of fruit. He was definitely part of the blending, and the wine that ended up in the bottle definitely has aspects of Daniel’s personality, because we had the conversation you have in any blending situation.

Peter Munro and Daniel Ricciardo

Drinkhacker: Have you ever worked with a celebrity on a blend before?

Peter Munro: No, I haven’t. And the good thing about this is that it happened was last year. This year, for the next release, I actually went to LA with the wines in tow and we did the same thing in person. So much nicer to do it in person, but essentially the same process. So the wine that’ll come out next year we’ve done in person same process, tasted all the wines. I love blending, and blending with Daniel has been no different. He’s very much into his wine. He’s got a good palate. He hasn’t got a trained palate, but he’s got a really quite a good palate. So we just have the normal conversation about what works and what doesn’t.

Drinkhacker: If you could pick any celebrity — could be a sports star, actor, you name it — and do a bespoke blend with them, who might it be? Who would be toward the top of your list?

Peter Munro: What I like about this collaboration is I think it is a true collaboration. We are getting great leverage out of Daniel. We love his personality and what he brings to the brand, but Daniel’s also getting a really good education in wine out of it. For me that collaboration aspect is really important. So anyone that I want to work with, you want them invested in what you’re doing. Daniel loves wine and that’s why it works. If you had someone who came in just because of their personality, I don’t think you’d get the same result.

That being said, if Scarlett Johansson was available to do a blend, I’d probably say yes.

Drinkhacker: Tell us a little bit about your week-to-week duties as a winemaker, along with any misconceptions you think folks might have surrounding a role like yours.

Peter Munro: One of the things I love about my role is that it really changes with the seasons. You’ve got to remember wine is an agricultural product. My role during vintage or harvest is very different to my role this time of the year when we’re just kicking into gear. I love the fact that during vintage I walk through vineyards, I spend most of my time in vineyards and then at the winery tasting the fermentation every day. And that real nitty gritty stuff, I really love. But as the year moves on, things age, and we have a team of winemakers working in the winery looking after the day to day stuff. What I love is being able to speak to people like yourself, educate people about wine, and help promote the brand as well, and also educate our team. One of the big things for me is about making our winemakers better winemakers.

Drinkhacker: Is there anything specifically that comes to mind when you think about the brand’s future? Anything that just really gets you going when you think in that next five to 10 year time horizon?

Peter Munro: One technical thing is that we’ve just planted a whole heap of new vineyards. So getting those right, I’m really, really excited about. So working closely with the viticulture team, we are playing with some new blends like a classic Australian Shiraz Cabernet blend, which is quite unique to Australia, but it’s very much rooted in the history of the Australian wine industry going back over a hundred years. So we are playing with that as a really premium offering for St Hugo, and I think that is something that hopefully will be able to get to the market over the next year or two.

David Tao is a writer for Drinkhacker.

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