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Master cellist wins Winery of the Year award

August 22, 2012

From pit to cellar—how a principal cellist became an award winning winemaker. Nathan Wak recounts his story:

“Back in 1999, when I was principal cellist with the Sydney Symphony, I was approached by a colleague, Richard Meyman, who had a dream to grow vines and make wine in the beautiful Clare Valley in South Australia. I first learned to appreciate wine as a 17-year-old student of the great Paul Tortelier at the Paris Conservatoire. I lived in France as an au pair and my host suggested that there were two things which I needed to take away from my time in France apart from music: cheese and wine! During the year that I lived with the Lemeignans, we ate and drank our way through hundreds of cheeses and obscure wines. So it really wasn’t such a strange idea to get involved in wine making so many years later.

We started by buying into a small 10-acre vineyard with wonderful old vines, owned by Kevin Mitchell, a talented young winemaker with a long family tradition of grape-growing and winemaking. He had recently started his own brand Kilikanoon, named after the 1850s cottage where he lived. He needed funds to expand…one thing led to another and soon we were partners in Kilikanoon, along with my old friend and colleague, John Harding, then concertmaster of the SSO.

In 2002, things changed. Kilikanoon won six out of the seven trophies awarded at the Clare Valley Wine show—all blind-tasted of course (like auditions behind screens so popular in orchestras these days). Suddenly we were on everyone’s radar and from then it just kept growing. Then we acquired more vineyards (oldest being planted in 1865 and still producing) and brands, including Seppeltsfield, one of Australia’s oldest wineries and maker of the world’s only unbroken collection of vintage dated tawny (port) going back to 1878 (although not as old as my 1723 Tecchler cello of course!)

Today, we export to over 25 countries and have won a lot of international awards and accolades including Best Shiraz in the World and Best Riesling as well. Very recently we received Australia’s highest award—2013 Winery of the Year from James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion—so I guess I’m pretty happy with the way things have turned out. I play the cello on request only and especially with my son Sam, as part of Waks Generation, a rather interesting musical collaboration between cello and electronic music, coming to a festival near you soon I hope.”

Read James Halliday’s article about the Winery of the Year award:


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