Inspiration / Lifestyle & Opinion

How do Winemakers Stay Fit and Healthy?

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Joanna Goodman Joanna Goodman / 12 February 2020

Making wine can be physically and mentally rather gruelling. Being at the mercy of Mother Nature year in year out must be tough, even for the highly experienced and assiduously prepared.

And then there's the selling of your product, once made. Endless rounds of trade fairs, lunches with clients and dinners to present your wine to customers; lots of hotels, eating out and living out of a suitcase. All that travelling sounds enviable, but it is also extremely tiring and not great for the waistline!

At this time of year when many of us have just started new fitness regimes (allegedly), we asked some of our suppliers what they do to stay in shape. Some of the replies are quite exhausting just to read about!

Peter Gago, Penfolds' Chief Winemaker Runs & Goes to the Gym (Reluctantly!)

Peter Gago – Penfolds' chief winemaker in Stevenage
Peter Gago – Penfolds' chief winemaker in Stevenage

Peter isn't just the chief winemaker for Penfolds but also the global ambassador, Peter has taken this role to new heights. He has been travelling the world pretty much non-stop for more than 25 years. No one, I am told, visits more markets than he does. Peter's schedule sounds positively gruelling but when you meet him, he's always bright and sparky and incredibly humble. He also looks pretty trim for a guy who gets to preside over some pretty swank foodie engagements. What's the secret? He told me that he goes to the gym and tries to get out for a run wherever he is staying. Does he enjoy it? Absolutely not! He says he really hates to exercise but does it because he also likes to be able to enjoy food and wine. That's the kind of exercise philosophy I can relate to! But, he also added, that running is actually a great way of getting to see a place, particularly when your schedule doesn't always give you much time for sight-seeing.

Laura Brunelli of Gianni Brunelli, Brunello di Montalcino Uses Yoga For Balance

Laura Brunelli runs this beautiful estate that she and her late husband Gianni set up with real passion and zeal. Laura is warm and welcoming and her farmhouse is charmingly decorated with lots of original art that friends have given her. She and Gianni built up a large international network of friends when they ran their restaurant together in the middle of Siena. As well as all the fascinating and eclectic pieces of art, I couldn't help but notice on a visit there a couple of years ago, a fair amount of yoga equipment. I discovered that Laura practices yoga several times a week at classes and regularly at home too. I asked if there was a connection between her practice and approach to winemaking and running the estate:

'First of all, yoga means basically 'presence'; being present in every step of the work that you do, being aware of all that is around you and having respect for the job you are doing.

'For me it`s mainly all about nurturing a respect for nature, helping plants in all phases of development (never forcing them) in order to get the best quality crop. For this reason I choose not to use any chemicals or pesticides in the vineyard.'

'Finally, the main reason of association between yoga and wine is to find the perfect 'balance'.

Talking wine over lunch at her lovingly restored farmhouse with Sebastian Payne MW, Society buyer
Talking wine over lunch at her lovingly restored farmhouse with Sebastian Payne MW, Society buyer

Claudia Schug of Schug Winery, Sonoma Likes to Dance!

Dancing is a great stress-buster!
Dancing is a great stress-buster!

Claudia, with her brother Axel, is the current owner of this family estate in California, producers of our new Exhibition Sonoma Pinot Noir (coming soon!). Buyer Sarah Knowles MW told us that Claudia plays the trombone, hikes and dances (the Viennese waltz!) in her spare time. She told me how this all helps keep a steady hand on the helm at the family estate, offering a glimpse into life in sleepy Sonoma too!

'I love music and dancing is the ultimate stress release! If a favourite danceable song comes on the radio, I often start dancing, regardless of where I am! We're lucky here in Sonoma – there are many free live band performances. Tuesday evening farmers market, the Sonoma City Party, a multitude of venues like The Reel, Hopmonk Tavern or Murphy's, and at various wineries… there's always a band playing somewhere. Plenty of opportunities to go out dancing with friends in this sometimes sleepy little town, fondly referred to 'Slow-Noma'.

'With all the great food and wine that are part of this industry, it's so important to have fun ways to burn off excess calories!

Claudia also hikes as much as she can in Sonoma and the surrounding area, up the mountains (Sonoma Mountain, Moon Mountain, etc.), the hills of Carneros and all the way out to the Pacific Ocean. It's a way to stay fit, connect with nature, and soak in some sunshine (and get out of our underground cellar).

Claudia looking out over the Sonoma Valley, toward her winery and vineyards
Claudia looking out over the Sonoma Valley, toward her winery and vineyards

Ernst and Nina-Mari Bruwer, Mont Blois, South Africa – The Ironman Couple

Ernst grows the grapes and his wife, Nina-Mari makes the wine at this revitalised Robertson estate. And as well as looking after three young children they also find time to compete in Ironman competitions. They admit they couldn't do it all without the help of their parents but also, Ernst tells me, there is no way they could do what they do without the hard-core exercise regime! 'It's what helps to keep us focused and our feet on the ground,' Ernst says, 'We both really enjoy it and find it gives us the energy to put back into our work.' I will just have to take their word on that, but they do exude good health and vitality and they have certainly made huge strides in reenergising their large family estate of which they are sixth-generation custodians.

Ernst and Nina-Mari Bruwer exude good health. Bet those dogs take some exercising too!
Ernst and Nina-Mari Bruwer exude good health. Bet those dogs take some exercising too!

Marathon-Running Sichel Brothers, Maison Sichel, Bordeaux

Charles Sichel told me that he took up running marathons as a bit of a mid-life-crisis, launching into triathlons in 2008. He got all his brothers, sister-in-law and friends involved too and they regularly competed in the now famous Médoc marathon. He did say that he has had to wind it down recently as training is so time-consuming and travelling makes it difficult too. But when they can, the brothers will go out at lunchtime and I am sure that running together helps you work together too.

Suppliers of our Society's Claret for more than 25 years, the Sichels all took up marathon running together
Suppliers of our Society's Claret for more than 25 years, the Sichels all took up marathon running together

Caroline Gilby MW, Writer, Expert on Eastern Europe & Mountain Marathon Runner

Ok, so Caroline isn't a wine producer, but she regularly contributes articles to our website and is the font of all knowledge when it comes to Eastern Europe. I also happen to know that she runs, a lot. Not satisfied with regular marathons, Caroline competes in mountain marathons, which just sounds insane to me!

Caroline Gilby
Caroline Gilby

Why does she do it, I ask!

'I took up running when I went on my first Master of Wine study trip to New Zealand. Wineries always want to show off their wines with the best food they can and I had to do something to keep all that generous hospitality at bay. It also turned out to be a great way of seeing a bit more of the amazing places I visit, often early in the morning before anyone else is up. I caught the competitive running bug seriously and before long found myself running marathons (my first was the amazing Médoc marathon which runs through many famous châteaux with 21 wine tastings along the way). I'm getting older and slower now so have reinvented my running in an effort to try and avoid plodding round on tarmac. A few years back I discovered the joys of mountain marathons (have done 19 now) – these involve two days on remote fells, with all your kit for an overnight camp on your back (yes, tent and food too). You get a map and checkpoint list on the start line and have to navigate and run to as many as you can. I love this combination of mental and physical challenge and often beat younger faster people through cunning.

The surfers!

Last but not least, lots of our winemakers, especially those in the Cape and Oz, take to their boards to relieve stress and find their inner Zen! But even those that are based in Europe, like Thibault Despagne of Vignobles Despagnes and Château Mont-Pérat hunt down the waves when and where they can – even if it means surfing the mascaret (the Gironde's tidal bore).

The surfers!
The surfers!

Here's to happy and healthy suppliers and imbibers of their goods!

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