Behind Pinot Palooza with Dan Sims

What is Pinot Palooza and why are you so obsessed?

Put simply, it’s a Pinot Noir party. Looking back to when we started the whole thing in 2012, I was becoming increasingly frustrated that every time I had a discussions around Pinot Noir I was surrounded by (generally) older men telling me what I didn’t know. 
But the wines I was trying had all this energy and verve and in complete contrast to the environment in which we usually we would taste; in a class room. 

Hence, a ‘palooza’ where we could taste incredibly serious and exciting wines, but not in a serious environment. Very much like it’s namesake event was a swing against commercialisation of music, this was about the swinging away from the standard ‘death my masterclass’ format. 
Why, because everyone loves wine and we love to learn about it the same way we consume it, socially. Wine by default is social. So why not celebrate it in a fun, social environment. 

You started Pinot Palooza in 2012, what then triggered you to create the magazine in 2018?

I see the magazine as a natural evolution of the Pinot Palooza brand. We sat back and looked at the attendee numbers from 2017 and quickly discovered, this was pushing circulation rates of many of the local wine publications who’s audiences were primarily older. 
I saw an opportunity to ‘rethink’ what wine content was and saw we had a platform to tell the stories about the amazing wineries and regions who are part of our event to our audience in a different way. It was about integrating into people’s lives (with regional tours, city focuses) and have more of a conversation rather than a lecture (which I fear many in wine have as a default setting).

We back this up with all the digital media we produce as well so it allows our audience to choose their own adventure rather than dictate what they should know and like. 

The People’s Choice is a ‘Thing’ – tell us more… 

It is a ‘thing’ indeed and people (guests and wineries alike) really get behind it. At each event we have no mention of 5 star ratings or points and the only thing we ask is for people to pick their favourite producer on the day for I wholeheartedly believe if someone can work out what they like, and explain why they like (or dislike) it, they are 3/4 of the way there. 
It helps people the next time they go to wine store or retail store as any wine professional will be able to guide them further on their journey. 

Add to that, we feature the Top 10 People’s Choice in the Magazine each year and in 2019, we’ll be doing a full on awards ceremony at our HQ in Melbourne. 
Yes, it’s a BIG thing and growing with every additional city and country we go to. 

As an Australian (wink wink) what the most exciting NZ Pinot Noir region right now and why? Alright tell us your favourite Aussie one too…

Now this is a really hard one! It’s hard to play favourites for NZ Pinot Noir in general is bloody exciting at the moment. In fact, so is Australian for that matter. 

But if I had to choose, I’d say I love the pioneering spirit of North Canterbury. It’s a place close to my heart and let’s face it, they’ve been through some shit, yet they remain resolute and awesome humans. There is a certain ‘wildness’ the wines from there and I’ve loved watching the region evolve (it’s why we featured it in the magazine this year btw!). 
In Australia, I’m pretty bloody pumped about Gippsland for many of the same reasons I state above. Gippsland is truly coming of age and it will be a region you’re going to hear more and more about in the coming years. Yes, you’ll have to seek them out but it’s worth it. 

Who do you admire most in the world of wine and why? (It doesn’t have to be Pinot related)

Two people immediately come to mind and they’re both women. 

Angie Bradbury who is managing director of Dig & Fish (marketing and experiential agency in Melbourne) and was just awarded the ‘women on influence’ in the Women in Wine Awards in New York. She has been a friend, guide & mentor to me for as long as I can remember and helped shaped my business to where it is today.
Also, massive shout out to Andrea Frost who is a downright legend and who is essential to reminding us all as to why we actually love wine. Her writing, insights and cerebral approach to the world of wine is vital to all within it. When she talks, listen.

You’re very lucky to have her in the in UK. 

Why did you chose to launch ‘unplugged’ in London?

It’s been a concept we’ve been toying around with for some time now and I think it finally got to a point where we had to say ‘fuck it, let’s do it!’.
But hand on heart, there was no one else I wanted to do this with more than you, Mel Brown! I think we both have similar philosophies on wine plus, a ‘dare greatly’ mentality.

We’re all about collaborating with good humans!

As an Australian (wink wink) what’s your favourite NZ Pinot Noir region and why?

Again, I’d say North Canterbury for the reasons I state above!

How do you think the history of Pinot Noir can be preserved over time moving into New World winemaking?

Pinot Noir is history. It is a lens in which tells a story of where its from, what happened that year and of the people; regardless if it’s new or old world. 
I hope the ‘Old world vs New World’ comparisons becomes less and less relevant as years go by as Pinot Noir, regardless of where its from, is getting better and better and better. 
Yes, we tip our hat to Burgundy but sheesh … there are some mind blowing wines from Australia, New Zealand, Oregon and beyond that stack up against the historical home. 

If Burgundy is the world benchmark, what is your approach when introducing Burgundian lovers to New World styles…?

It is without doubt that Burgundy makes the greatest Burgundy in the world! Yes, it is a benchmark but I wish we would stop comparing it to Australian or NZ pinot noir. They’re different FFS and that is the effing point, is it not! (rant over).

Each gives you a different experience which, again, is the point. Just because it’s from Burgundy, doesn’t mean it’s great. And just because it’s from the new world, doesn’t mean it’s on training wheels. 
Explore. Be open minded. Ask questions. Meet the people. Let it wash over you and enjoy the moment. 
To quote Andrea Frost in her Pinot 2017 speech, we have the map, now let’s go explore the territory. 

What’s the one word you would use to describe the personality of New World Pinot Noir? 

Sexy AF (is that 3 words?)

What do you see as the greatest achievement to date from past Pinot Palooza events, and what do you hope to achieve through Unplugged in London?

As corny as this sounds, it’s the collaboration side of things that I’m most proud of. In Melbourne recently, we had almost 80 wineries come together in collaboration, not competition, to celebrate Pinot Noir in front of 4000 people for one single day. 

4000 people who didn’t just turn up to an event about wine, but a wine event about a single grape variety. That is so fucking cool.
People have never been more interested, or excited, about what they imbibe. Globally. But they are enjoying it on their terms and making it part of their life. 
For London, it’s very much the same. UnPlugged is a starting point. An independent, underground movement about bringing likeminded people together in collaboration where the only agenda is Pinot Noir in all its glory. Punter and producer a like. All are welcome. 

Let’s party! (just leave your ego at the door!)

Your Pinot moment, who were you with and what were you eating… 

There is never one with Pinot Noir, is there?

Recently, I visited Rippon (Central Otago, NZ) for the first time and was legit moved to tears. The people, the place, the connection to land … it was incredible.

Then, wearing my wanker sommelier hat, I actually tried a 1978 Rousseau Charmes-Chambertin when I worked in the UK in the naughties. It floored me. 

And then there was that time in North Canterbury at ‘The Cove’ where I was eating local food drinking Pinot Noir. And then at Peay and Littorai on the Sonoma Coast. And then there was that Bindi. And then… you get the drift.

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