My Passion for Wine - John Hegarty

My Passion for Wine - John Hegarty Specials Specials

The founder of advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty is a creative thinker. And as ADAM LECHMERE discovers, his love for wine takes a similar form

John Hegarty is the creative force behind some of the most memorable adverts of the last 20 years. It was he who had Nick Kamen getting his Levis off in the launderette. He thought up the ‘Vorsprung durch technik’ strapline for Audi. And for Barnardo’s, he presented children in a variety of shocking images – a two-year-old drug user, a six-year-old prostitute – to illustrate how a child’s future can be stolen. Many of his ads have caused huge controversy. Many more have won awards.

From his exceptionally cool offices on the edges of London’s Soho, John Hegarty is mapping out a new campaign. He’s not selling Levi’s, or Reeboks, or Audi – he’s considering how to sell his new wine.

A small, spare, dry individual in a black polo neck, Hegarty’s conversation is clear and precise. As befits an ad man, his speech is peppered with gnomic maxims of which the best example is the agency’s motto – ‘When the world zigs, zag.’

To illustrate this, the symbol of all he stands for is the black sheep – zagging away while its flockmates zig. Hegarty likes to confound expectations. He’s over 60 and he has moved back into the city, to get a more ‘urban lifestyle’ in ultra-fashionable Clerkenwell. While his peers stock their cellars, he’s drinking his. ‘The idea that I have to wait 10–15 years for a wine to be ready was just not that interesting to me. The important thing is to have friends with great cellars.’

He has always loved his wine, and drops the great names with ease. He had a girlfriend in the early 1960s whose father was a Bordeaux fan. ‘He said something fantastic to me. He said: “I am about to open a bottle of 1957 Lynch-Bages. What you are going to drink is that year.” Where else can you do that? You are actually drinking that year in terms of what happened to the weather, the soil, the temperature. I thought that was wonderful.’

Believing in quality, not quantity, Hegarty uses restaurants to ‘experiment’ with wine, discovering new Riojas, marvellous Tokajis. ‘I like to choose an interesting wine. There is no point in going for something that you know about. Always experiment. And if you are in a good restaurant, then talk to the sommelier.’ His desert island wine would be a Montrachet – though there would be a problem keeping it chilled, he reckons.

He’s also part of a wine club, along with a painter, a photographer and an art director. ‘We call ourselves the Wine Society,’ he says. ‘Everyone brings a bottle which we all note in a book.’

THE OTHER SIDE

A couple of years ago Hegarty decided he wanted to see what it was like on the other side of the fence. ‘I have spent my life being an advisor. I don’t make the important decisions – that’s up to the client. But if you are the brand owner, you’re the one who makes the decisions.’

It was a chance, he says, ‘to put into practice all the brand belief’ he’s been so vocal about all these years. Now he is the owner of Domaine de Chamans, 26ha of Minervois vineland just outside Carcassonne. The vineyards are planted to Carignan, Syrah, Grenache and Marsanne, and the first harvest (2003) is in. He employs a full-time manager and winemaker, Sam Berger, and thinks the vintage is going to be ‘interesting… but we will have to work at it, blend it correctly.’

Hegarty is no absentee landlord. Like a true urbanite, he’s dismissive about the country – ‘full of farmers and fascists’ – but he spends as much time as he can in France and talks knowledgeably about yields and terroir.

He’s spent a lifetime working out how best to exploit the intricate mechanics of human acquisitiveness, and now he wants a new challenge. While most vineyard proprietors like to put the effects of terroir down to magic and mystery, Hegarty sees it as an intriguing conundrum. I suspect he’s got human nature pretty much sussed – this is a man who could sell bibles in Mecca – and now wants to see if he can get the measure of Mother Nature herself.

‘The one major difference between wine and what I was doing before is nature. Other than that it is just like making cars, or toothpaste, or hats. The principles are the same.’

Heresy, of course, to many a Decanter reader. But he’s not discounting nature – he’s just looking at it as something to work with. He’s a champion of terroir-specific wine, for example.

‘The French are absolutely right about [the importance of] terroir because that’s the way you can protect yourself. The Australian and New Zealand industries are varietal based – anyone can make those wines. If you’re looking at a £3.99 Chardonnay from Chile and a £6.99 one from Australia, the cheaper one wins and you lose your market.’

Hence he’s also got his eye on the Languedoc AC and how it can be improved – ‘it’s got to be more specific in regional terms’ – and he’s determined his wines will be hand-crafted, hand-harvested, organic. Even the labels are going to be handmade – or rather, there will be a poem, a new one commissioned every year, on the back label.

This dapper figure in his plate-glass office uses the work ‘experiment’ a lot. Is he in the middle of a life-changing experiment himself? After all, he previously referred to his present work in the past tense when discussing ‘what I was doing before’.

If he’s going to give up the day job and turn his forensic eye on the Languedoc, look out for the posters.