From the beginning with his first winery Shaw + Smith, which he started in 1989 with his cousin Martin Shaw in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia, Michael Hill Smith has believed in the importance of sustainability as a principle. The second vineyard – Tolpuddle in Tasmania’s Coal Valley – which they purchased 22 years later, continues to be managed with a focus on vine and soil health in a sustainable way. “The concept of sustainability is about respect for the environment, reducing one’s footprint and for me, a sense of leaving your vineyards in a better condition than when you took them over,” says Hill Smith. “Nowadays, people are very aware of what they drink and they want their wines to be made by people who take their environmental responsibilities seriously.”
But no amount of environmental consciousness will make good wines if it’s not been well made in the end. “A good wine has to be free from fault, but it’s so much more than that,” explains Hill Smith. “It should have a sense of place, a distinct personality, and in a tasting sense, it should have intensity and length on the palate, and individuality.”
That said, one of the most interesting wines to emerge from Australia is chardonnay, Hill Smith says, which he has under both his Shaw + Smith and Tolpuddle labels. “It’s really an evolution story. Australian winemakers are planting chardonnay in cooler places, making them with less new oak and more complexity, compared to 20-30 years ago. I think that great chardonnay is built around this lovely acid line down the tongue, then you have this lovely core of flavour that goes through.”
This evolution though, comes from Hill Smith’s belief that winemakers will try to make exciting wines that they like and hope consumers will embrace.
The consumers themselves seem to be going through a palate evolution themselves. “People are moving away from big, powerful, heavy, oaky wines and it’s fascinating and very exciting to see pinot, gamay, and some of those wines which have lovely perfumes and are a little bit lighter in demand,” explains Hill Smith. “In Australia, you can see even though there are some full-bodied, rich, high alcohol wines from warmer areas, there are also some amazing medium-bodied, spicy, lovely cool-climate shiraz coming out.”
On board Singapore Airlines, there is a shift in wine drinking patterns as well. “There will always be passengers who want to see New Zealand sauvignon blanc, Australian shiraz, Bordeaux reds and champagne,” observes Hill Smith. “I think the younger generation of wine drinkers and sommeliers are very adventurous and looking for discovery wines. They are becoming a little bit more experimental. And they’re looking to learn and discover wine outside of their comfort zone.”
He highly encourages people not to have four glasses of the same wine, simply because all wines have a compelling story to tell. There are three or four wines available in each cabin class, and Hill Smith recommends tasting them all for the experience.
Whether selecting classic or emerging wines to serve on board, Hill Smith and other wine experts, Oz Clarke and Jeannie Cho Lee, blind taste approximately 1,000 wines every year with the view to finding wines to excite Singapore Airlines passengers. “We’re looking for best of breed or the best example of the wine we can find on the table. So if we’re looking for Bordeaux, we’re looking for a fabulous Bordeaux. If we’re looking at champagne, we’re looking for complexity and length.”Flying is a special occasion for many, no matter how often one travels. Even for Hill Smith. “I always have a glass of champagne because I still find flying exciting and to start a journey like this is a great way of celebrating the journey,” he says. On long-haul flights, Hill Smith has noticed that some passengers take more time to think about what they’re eating and drinking. “People are now expecting restaurant quality in the air, which by its nature is a challenge, although Singapore Airlines takes its wine and food programme very seriously.”
And what is Hill Smith’s favourite meal whenever he flies Singapore Airlines? “My idea of perfection: chicken rice and Krug.”
– TEXT BY ANNE LOH
PHOTOGRAPHY: TAN WEI TE, ART DIRECTION: NG SAY LEE, GROOMING: ADELENE SIOW, HAIR: ANNIE TAY
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.