Richard Hargreave and Mike Bennie take on Las Vegas
Richard Hargreave is a globetrotting, dynamic sommeliers/drinks list culture creator. His role seems to have transcended the traditional sommelier mold, with a broader scope and a front-foot approach to beverage direction.
Originally from the U.K., Richard moved to Sydney to work at Quay restaurant (which is included in the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants) before taking on the head sommelier role at the vaunted Bilson’s restaurant. His star-spangled career has also seen him dux the Australian Court of Master Sommeliers’ exam (2012), enter the fray of Australian wine show judging, and win the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide ‘Australian Sommelier of The Year’ in 2014.
His understanding of Australian wine has been shaped by both local and international experience, and his talent caught the eye of David Chang and his Momofuku team. This led to his appointment in 2011 as sommelier/beverage director of Momofuku Seiobo in Sydney, Australia. His success in Sydney led to him being relocated to New York to work more closely with Chang, and he has subsequently been seconded to help establish Momofuku Las Vegas. His next task will see him overseeing the establishment and direction of Momofuku Los Angeles projects.
Hargreave’s career is steeped in a classical wine education which has more recently been enhanced by his distinct interest in natural wine, Junmai sake, artisan spirits and wild ferment brewing. His metier is an open weave of intuitive wine service, boundary-pushing selection, innovative event management and an unquenchable thirst for exploration of wine and drinks culture.
Hargreave & Bennie: A Fermented Match
Most recently, Hargreave teamed up with long-term collaborator, Australia-based wine and drinks writer/presenter, Mike Bennie. The duo revived their Momofuku Seiobo Sunday Session concept with a one-off presentation in Las Vegas of avant-garde Australian wine. The two took over the Sand Dollar Lounge, a dive bar of repute, and poured some 20-odd Australian wines for the 60-or-so attendees between 11pm and 2am on a raucous Thursday night.
Wines in play included a suite of new releases from maverick Yarra Valley producer Mac Forbes, offerings from cult winery Sami-Odi, a selection from Year Wines, Harkham, Syrahmi, Brian, Ruggabellus, Adelina and Eden Road. Most of these producers have never been seen before in Las Vegas. Some have never even been in the States.
Lucy Margaux winemaker Anton van Klopper
In this unique, dimly lit tasting setting – complete with blues band, beer-can vending machine and legal smoking inside – the dynamic and energy were palpable. Beverage directors and high-end certified sommeliers from marquee restaurants like Joel Robuchon, Gordon Ramsay’s offering in Vegas, and the A-team from Batali Group, were in attendance alongside bar owners, restaurateurs and various buyers. The event was a roaring success and helped open many an influential eye to the diversity and breadth that are the signatures of modern Australian wine.
Richard Shares His Views on Australian Wine
Richard’s background and extraordinary range of experiences have imbued in him a singular and highly valuable perspective on Australian wine. He recently offered his thoughts on it and its contemporary status.
When you moved to Australia to work as a sommelier, what was your original opinion/impression of Australian wine?
I definitely wasn’t aware of the range of styles and regions that was out there. I had come from a retail background in the U.K., most of which was spent flogging Rosemount Chardonnay at two-for-five pounds or Yellow Tail for even less. It really felt like it was bulk wines, and then Grange, with very little in between.
What were Australians drinking when you first worked in Australia? What was popular?
Shiraz was still THE grape. People out celebrating wanted a big red, (and) if it was white it was New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc all the way. Things certainly changed dramatically over my time in Australia!
Richard Hargreave, sommelier at Momofuku Las Vegas
What were the biggest changes you saw working in Australia?
Particularly in the later years of my time in Australia, there was a huge shift towards people looking for smaller producers making fresher, lighter style wines that were more appropriate to drink on their own, or with food. The consumer also became more curious to the less well-known regions of the old world; the Loire Valley, Jura, Southern France, Bierzo, Northern California for example. This reflected well on Australian producers shifting their gaze to these places too. In exposing Australia to amazing producers like Pierre Overnoy and Thierry Allemand, Australian winemakers and avant-garde producers gained the confidence to exert a more creative approach to their wines. It was very exciting.
What is your impression of Australian wine now?
The last time I was there, (which was) earlier this year, I was blown away by the number of young winemakers getting hold of parcels of well-farmed land and making delicious wine that could be drunk quickly and often in great quantity! When I left it was really Jauma, Shobbrook, Lucy Margaux and Si Vintners, amongst others, that were flying the flag for this renaissance. Now I can’t keep up with them all. It’s as exciting a wine making country now as anywhere else in the world.
What excites you about Australian wine now?
There has been a well-documented rise in minimal interventionist winemaking, a move away from the formulaic wine-by-numbers that was a blight on the country for years. What I particularly love is that even the traditional winemakers have stood up and responded to market demands. They might not be making zero sulfur, 12% alcohol Grenache, but they are applying sustainable farming techniques and moving the winemaking as a whole in Australia in the right direction.
I also love the sense of community that has formed between winemakers and bars and restaurants. The collaborative aspect is so exciting, winemakers have a sense of freedom to make what they want, and work with sommeliers to create special bottlings to meet the tastes and demands of sommeliers. I can’t think of anywhere else where this is so evident.
James Erskine, winemaker at Jauma
What wine producers do you think are making waves in the US? Who would you like to see more of?
Mac Forbes’ wines have just got better and better, and it’s great to see his wines getting a big push in the larger cities like New York and Los Angeles. His wines would stand up to anything produced in the States. I would love to see more of the younger generation represented; Gareth Belton with his Gentle Folk wines, and Tim and Monique at Manon Farms are just two that I would kill for here. As with most wine regions some wine with age would be amazing as well – I’ve just added 1990’s Yarra Yering which is amazing, but more Hunter Valley Semillon with age, old Bass Phillip and Bindi Pinot Noir, old school red producers like Craiglee and Tyrrell’s – there’s so much!
What are some of the styles you think Australia is doing well that many wouldn’t realize are coming from there?
Light red is the style that springs to mind. Most people still think of huge oaky Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon when they think of Australian reds, but the light maceration, low-alcohol reds being produced would give the L’Anglores of this world a real run for their money now. Skin contact white wines are another; winemakers have really got the balance now and are making bright, textured whites (and orange wines!) with freshness but structure from the skin contact. Shobbrook’s Giallo Sauvignon Blanc and Brash Higgins Zibibbo are two that spring to mind.
What is the biggest misconception about Australian wine?
That it is the land of homogenous, mass produced red wine. And Grange. There is just so much in between that now. Also, the climate: parts of Australia are cold, it’s not all red earth and sunshine. There’s so much more.
Richard Hargreave visited Australia in 2017 as part of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants celebrations in Melbourne