Sean Spratt (an American by birth) is a very busy, multiple-hat wearing General Manager, Co-Owner (with his parents Mike and Anne) and Winemaker at Destiny Bay on Waiheke Island–aka Wine Island–New Zealand. My first stop on a 3-week journey across the country, Spratt took time to answer a long-distance interview before my arrival on January 26th (which is now today). We touched on topics such as the cost of doing business as a winery on a very expensive, little island; his predilection for scuba diving; and the “Sideways” effect on Merlot.
Destiny Bay Vineyards is located in a small, north facing valley on Waiheke Island, New Zealand. Established in 2000, Destiny Bay grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot from top-grade clones selected from premium wine districts around the world.
Destiny Bay’s Signature Wines and Prices (Prices are in USD and include taxes and shipping to customer door within 48 Continental US States. Must order in multiples of 8, 12 or 15 bottles):
- Magna Praemia RRP $330 / $180 Patron Club
- Mystae RRP $150 / $85 Patron Club
- Destinae RRP $100 / $60 Patron Club
What philosophy guides your viticulture and enology practices? We produce New Zealand’s highest rated and most expensive wine. We have an obligation to our patrons to uphold this tradition based on quality and artistic expression of our site through the wines. All decisions from grape to bottling are guided by this philosophy. That being said, our belief is that great wines are made in the vineyard not in the winery. Furthermore, we feel that expression of the fruit and vineyard is critical and that is why we do a level of grading and sorting that is unparalleled in New Zealand.
What is your biggest challenge as a winemaker (e.g., volatility of Mother Nature, expense to income ratio, having to actually market your wine)? Adapting to changing conditions without lowering any standard. It means our vintage volume swings wildly from year to year, wreaking havoc on capacity, oak barrel ordering, supplies and the psyche of our whole team.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of grapegrowing and winemaking on Waiheke? Waiheke’s unique weather and soils allow us to grow grapes of uncommon character – especially the Bordeaux varieties at our site. The drawback is that it is ridiculously expensive to do this.
What excites you most about New Zealand wines right now? Hopefully we are about to shift our global narrative to remind the world that nobody makes fine wine with the same commitment to protecting the planet as New Zealand does.
How do you think Americans perceive NZ wines? As an American by birth I have a pretty good idea. By and large most who know us recognize us for being a value priced, good quality, Sauvignon Blanc. In very small circles, Destiny Bay has cultivated a distinctly different perception.
What is your favorite non-kiwi wine region? Your least? Santa Cruz Mountains and Howell Mountain. Least is Romania, although even they are improving (slowly).
Which wine or grape (in the world) is the least understood or respected? That is tough. I am going to say Merlot because of the effect the movie “Sideways” had on popular culture. I’m amazed at how often people still talk about that scene from the movie. Otherwise, probably Riesling. Riesling is the grape that winemakers and wine-writers love and always seem flummoxed over why it isn’t more popular in the marketplace.
What do you drink at home when relaxing? A wide range of red and white wines from all over the world. I love the obscure varieties that aren’t common place (Marsanne, Roussanne, Picpoul de Pinet, Nebbiolo, etc…) Of course, I drink our wines, but as a winemaker, I am constantly looking to taste and explore wines from everywhere.
How do you spend your free time (if you have any)? I had a little bit of a chuckle when I read this question. You realize you are asking this question of a winemaker who is also an owner in what has to be one of the most vertically integrated global wineries that produces less than 2500 cases per year, right? Joking aside, with what little free time I have, I run/swim/cycle to stay healthy in body and mind since winemaking at the level which we operate requires a lot of concentration. Recreationally, I have a monthly wine club with friends, and when I travel, I try to hit wine regions I haven’t been to before, but also try to make sure I get a stopover in a tropical location where there is great scuba diving.
If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? I would love to visit Portugal and explore their wine regions. Also, I have yet to make it to the Margaret River in West Australia. Otherwise, I try to make a trip to California each year to see family and friends.
Give one surprising fact about yourself. I used to be a stage actor and I am also a PADI Dive Instructor.