For wine expert and (amateur) cricketer Mike Turner it was an invite amongst all invites – come along to Lord’s, meet Sir Ian ‘Beefy’ Botham and taste the range of wines he’s developed with Paul Schaafsma of Benchmark Drinks. For Sir Ian, also a bit of a dab hand on the cricket field, it was also an opportunity not to be missed – meeting the scouser who has become a mini-legend in his own lunchtime.
Sir Ian it seems is a bit of a wine nerd, the first process in developing the range was a blind tasting of 300-400 wines.
Sir Ian Botham evokes feelings in a lot of people from around Britain. I’ve played and watched cricket my entire life, but was only aware of cricket after he retired. So yes, he’s a legend of the game, and I’m not alone in having watching THAT 1981 series on repeat on YouTube.
My main memories of him, however, was the charitable work for dozens of great causes raising over £12 million in the process. And the Shredded Wheat adverts, naturally. Now in 2018, I was invited along to Lords Cricket Ground to witness the unveiling of his first range of wines. I’m trying hard not to be sycophantic here, but cricket, charity, and wine? Love it!
I’m going to start with the big take home of the day. This guy loves wine, everything about wine, and means business with this project. This is not a play thing for him. Botham started his wine life as a young lad learning the ropes at Somerset, ferrying around drinks to senior players and club officials. The joys of a couple of chilled bottles of Beaujolais and cheese in whicker baskets clearly pairs perfectly with an early summer in Taunton.
Before anyone knew it, he’s in a post cricket talk as a pundit spending 20 minutes on the evolving style of Margaret River Chardonnays. He’s a wine geek, and it’s great to see.
He’s been joined on this journey by Paul Schaafsma. Now MD of Benchmark Drinks, Paul is well known across the wine trade at his roles at Accolade Wines, and more recently at Broadland Wineries. This was my first meeting with Paul, and I was suitably impressed. A very calm, unassuming fella that you could really enjoy a few glasses with. Someone who also has a deep knowledge of the workings of the wine industry.
The wines were great, but you can try them and work it out for yourselves. Perhaps the most interesting aspect for me was the relationship between Sir Ian and Paul. There’s clearly a lot of respect there. This whole project was born out of a phone call from Paul after a nameless project between the two had gone awry.
Sir Ian remembers: “He phoned me up and said ‘What do you really want to do? Do you want to make your own wine?’ From there it was a whistle stop tour to Spain, New Zealand, and on searching for the best we could get.”
Once they decided to start in Australia, Paul and Ian started with a 300-400 blind wine tasting in a tight room somewhere in Barossa. “It was clear” says Schaafsma, “that Sir Ian had a style in mind. Even for the All Rounder series, this isn’t just 100% Riverland fruit. The Chardonnay has 30% Margeret River in it. The Cabernet Sauvignon has 30% Coonawarra in it. We didn’t stop til he was happy.”
There are celebrity endorsements, and then there are celebrity endorsements. For some reason, I can’t imagine P Diddy had the same input into the rebrand of Ciroc.
This is not something that is set to be confined to the UK shores. Markets across the world are supposedly interested. When I asked if he felt that selling to non-cricket nations was going to be tough, he stressed that “this has nothing to do with cricket, it’s about the wine”. Hmmm maybe I didn’t ask that question as well as I could of. I was trying to be polite. It was more of a “if no-one’s ever heard of you, where’s your point of difference?”
The press release made a pointed effort to put across that 85% of UK drinkers know of Sir Ian in a positive light from either his sporting or charitable work, with a healthy chunk of those willing to search on the wine aisles for a Botham wine. How would that translate in downtown Nanning?
I wasn’t trying to play devil’s advocate, I was genuinely interested in what both he and Paul thought. But they are right; the wines are genuinely good. And apparently China loves the entry level All Rounder series the most “as it’s got a lot of red on the label.” Fair enough.
The wines will be commercially available in theory. I mean, they will definitely be in the future, but the beginnings might take a bit longer. Especially for the mid-ranged Botham Series and high end Sir Ian Botham Collection. Not only does Sir Ian have…well…one or two mates round the world that might take some allocation, the remainder of the latter is also to be a UK exclusive at Berry Brothers.
From there, the world is their spittoon. An Argentine Malbec and a Spanish red are on the cards, as is a Provencal rosé to please his wife. Very excitingly for the UK trade, a sparkling wine from Devon is deep into discussions too.
Exciting times for Beefy and crew. Good luck to them all.
- The Botham All-Rounder and The Botham Series wines will be available on general release in the autumn 2018 – in the meantime, they can be pre-ordered with exclusive offers, through www.bothamwines.com. For further info please contact: Charlotte Hey, Bespoke Drinks Media firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Buyer will shortly be carrying an in-depth interview with Sir Ian Botham and Paul Schaafsma where we look in more detail about how the wines and range came together and how Botham’s 40-year relationships with leading Australian winemakers have helped source and develop some unique wines and blends.