Kylie’s wine memories
AJ: Your earliest wine memories, Kylie?
Kylie: Lambrusco – that was the wine I bought as an 18-year-old and my earliest wine memory. Then when I was 21, I was dating a guy who I thought was very worldly. Actually he was very worldly; he was a bit older than me. We went on a trip through France and on into Italy. I can’t remember what all the wines were, but I do remember there was a lot of Chablis on the table … that was my starter. From stuff that doesn’t really taste too wine-like to being exposed to amazing, elevated European wines in their own environments in just two or three years – it was great.
AJ: How about rosé?
Kylie: That kicked in … probably 2016. And in 2017 I was working in Nashville for two weeks, in July, and it was really hot, just swimming-through-the-air hot. I said to Polly, one of my managers, ‘I need to get my resistance up: we’re going to have to drink rosé’. It’s sensible working hours in Nashville; you’re always done by 6.30 or 7. So there was lots of alfresco dining, lots of Whispering Angel on the table, and I just remember looking at the glass and really enjoying it. Then I just said ‘What if I have a rosé one day?’ The thought literally dropped on one of those dinner tables, and later it turned out that Paul [Paul Schaafsma of Benchmark Wines, Kylie’s wine-sourcing partner] had the same idea. It was great timing and it came together.
Making the Kylie wine range
AJ: You’re involved in the wine selection and blending?
Kylie: At our first meeting, I remember Paul said ‘We’ve got this window of opportunity since there’s this fruit there to buy’ and I thought ‘Fruit? What are you talking about?’ Every term in the wine glossary has been new to me. I never said this to Paul but I did feel quite nervous and intimidated. I told them I was going to ask all the dumb questions but of course there are no dumb questions. They held my hand, they listened to me when I tried to find a way to express myself, and in fact it was really exciting. I certainly never expected to be drinking wine for research, or thinking anything other than ‘what is my response to this? Do I want another glass?’”
AJ: You’re fully into it now?
Kylie: Well, I’m starting to expand my palate knowingly. To be more mindful of what wine is. The most overwhelming thing is how expansive it is. People spend their entire lives in wine, and I’m like coming in from zero. I’ve got books, but I don’t even know where to start. Though I have just signed up for Decanter! I’ve realised that no matter how far you go into wine, there’s always going to be more. But it’s totally thrilling to have a new project that’s also aeons old. I’m trying to catch up with people, but I’m also trying to bring other people in. And we’ve also done it through Covid. It was heartwarming to make something like that under such circumstances.
AJ: What’s the next stage of the journey?
Kylie: I’ve just come back from visiting Jeff Burch and the team at Howard Park Wines in Margaret River, Western Australia. That was very exciting to get into the vineyard, meet the winemaker, Janice McDonald, and submerge myself into that world for a few days. Next I’ll be visiting De Bortoli and share a glass of the newly bottled Pinot Noir with the winemaker, Steve Webber. As soon as travel is possible, I will be running to meet Aurélie Bertin and the team at Chateau St. Roseline. I initially thought that would be the first thing I would do – meet the people behind the wines – but of course that wasn’t possible in 2020, though I have done a couple of Zoom tastings which have been fun. We did one a couple of weeks ago with Sam Neill. He was hilarious. He was mostly presenting his Picnic by Two Paddocks. He got a little giggly and said ‘Oh, I think I’ve had one too many Picnics …’
AJ: You wanted to have different tiers of wines?
Kylie: The Signature and the Collection range, yes. If I relate it to music, it’s like aiming for a smash hit, the song that has high rotation and that is a dependable go-to. Then you want to have those side projects, remixes, special performances that are for super-fans and enthusiasts. When you go to a concert, you want to hear the hits, but you also like a suprise – I guess you could say that’s where the two ranges sit. The constant with all the wines we’re making is quality and consideration.
AJ: But are people buying wines from these wine places … or are they buying Kylie in wine form?
Kylie: Well, both, I hope. The heart of it – and we said this at the first meeting – is to over-deliver. That’s what pays off in the long run. I really want it to be commercially viable, but … where I sit in people’s minds, there also has to be an element of glamour, of magic, of creating a show. I want you to feel the magic, even if when you come back stage you’ll see guts and sweat and blood and tears and all that kind of stuff.
AJ: You’ve had blood and tears with the wines?
Kylie: Actually no – it’s been a lot of fun! It’s not been stressful – as so many other things are. It’s been pure delight.
AJ: How have your fans reacted?
Kylie: The reaction has been overwhelming – so much positivity. Of course like music wine is subjective, so it’s not to everyone’s taste. Some like thrash metal, some like disco pop. Some even like both! There’s also been a really good response from people who haven’t drunk wine before. It’s been a great entrance point for them, and I’m really happy to be a conduit guiding them to something on the supermarket shelves – because it is daunting. I’m glad they can recognise the wine. A lot of fans are keeping pristine, unopened bottles for their collections, though. I want to scream to them – drink it! When I see they have put the rosé up on a special shelf, I’m thinking ‘That’s going to be a very different colour in a few years …’
AJ: You don’t want to trash the colour, it’s true.
Kylie: No, but I appreciate the affection they have for the product and the brand. They even upcycle the bottles as lamps. The colour does matter; I love looking at rosé. Bringing it out of the fridge, before it’s even in the glass. My tastes are changing slightly, though. Before I would just have said it should be light and pale. Now I hear people saying that and I think ‘My god, I was that person’. But comparing the 2019 Rosé and the 2020 Côtes de Provence, I can see it’s got much more complexity and I really enjoy that. Of course it doesn’t stay in the glass too long.
AJ: Drinkability is key.
Kylie: Absolutely. Some might say quaffable.
AJ: Smooth and rounded.
Kylie: Like a soft pink glow, all around you.
AJ: I like that: nice phrase.
Kylie: When I flew to Australia, I knew I’d have to go into quarantine, so I bought like a pink kind of lace to put over the lights in the hotel room to soften things down and not be too stark. Like that.
AJ: Mmm. Kylie, thank you – and good luck with selling the next million bottles.