It all began in 1992, in provincial New Zealand. Muldoon was PM, Headless Chickens won album of the year, and Shortland Street hit our screens for the first time. Enter seventeen-year-old Craig, hanging out with a few mates and a few beers at the port in Nelson. Having knocked off their full quota of the finest and cheapest cans of lager they could get their hands on, and in need of just one more drink, the boys entered uncharted waters, pushing the cork in on a bottle of Neudorf Chardonnay of dubious provenance. For young Craig, this was a seminal moment, a little light flickered inside, this wine stuff was pretty darn tasty.
A few years later and Craig’s initial enthusiasm for wine hadn’t dimmed a bit. He managed to secure employment through a family friend on a large-scale vineyard operation in Mudgee, New South Wales. Full of gusto and keen to get stuck in, Craig found himself literally working his way from the ground up, smoking rabbits out of holes whilst dodging rather large snakes, and chipping weeds with a hoe. This rough start only served to peak his interest further as the manual labour, fresh air and solitude suited him just fine.
Having got the hang of the basics in Mudgee, and gaining a talent for snake avoidance, Craig’s thirst for knowledge lead him to the University of Adelaide and their renowned degree course in Viticulture and Oenology. With high calibre lecturers, and the most up to date research facility on the doorstep, Adelaide was an obvious choice. Those four years of studying, tasting, investigating, researching, fermenting any fruit he could get hold of and living and breathing wine, gave Craig both the foundation he needed to begin his career in winemaking, and some lifelong friendships with many outstanding winemakers and viticulturists to boot. Fired up with passion for his vocation, Craig worked in as many vineyards as would take him whilst studying, including the Barossa, McLaren Vale, Clare Valley, Adelaide Hill, Yarra Valley and of course Mudgee.
Whilst in his final year of University, at a Wine Industry conference, a moment that could only be described as pure serendipity occurred. During a much-needed tea break in the middle of a thrilling seminar on ‘powdery & downy mildew’ Craig found himself drinking Dilmah next to a gentleman from Central Otago with plans to start a new wine business. This chap must have been impressed with Craig’s ‘extensive knowledge of winemaking’ (read: enthusiasm and confidence only a fourth-year student with very little practical experience can exude), because three months later he offered Craig a position with the then brand new business Lamont! So, graduation and a hangover done with it was on the plane: Adelaide to New Zealand, destination Bendigo, and the start of something very special.
Straight out of university, with a head full of ideas, there’s a few essential things a young man needs: strong leadership, practical experience, time on the land, and a hearty dose of business nous. The burgeoning beginnings of Lamont and the strong direction of the McLachlan family provided this in spades. After seven seasons of creating, pushing boundaries, learning, achieving accolades and constantly building on quality, with high expectations and determination, Lamont was charging ahead and Craig was getting ready to leave the nest. Itchy feet, a distinct lack of romantic opportunities in rural Bendigo and a disappointing Thai dinner clinched the deal, it was time to make tracks and explore the big wide world of international wine.
So, on the hunt for adventure and excitement, wine related career opportunities, and a culture change, where was Craig headed? England of course. Not quite as bizarre as it sounds, the job Craig secured in the UK was exciting, innovative work, helping Chapel Down expand operations, and develop a new vineyard. A tour de force of suitable vineyard sites began, and many empty fields later, ended with the acquisition of some 120 acres on the North Downs of Kent. The vineyard was developed in Spring of 2008 with the first vintage bottled in 2010. This particular vineyard is now one of the top producing vineyards in the UK commanding the highest bottle price of any wine made in the England.
Like most Kiwis who travel to the UK, Craig was making the most of the wider European travel experience and the proximity to other countries. It was on one of these social sojourns that he met his now wife and business partner Angela whilst celebrating St Paddy’s day in Ireland in 2010. English Angie was on a flying visit back to the UK from New Zealand where she had been working towards residency for the last X? years. Craig was just history to hot foot it out of the UK on a new adventure in Canada after four years at Chapel Down and four rainy UK summers. With just eight weeks to go before Craig was scheduled to leave and a romance developing at a fast rate of knots, decisions needed to be made. After much discussion, Craig, ever the pragmatist, dropped his new love off at Gatwick to catch a plane back to NZ so she could complete the three months she needed to get resident status, and with a heavy heart he headed back to Kent. Unbeknown to Craig a real-life movie scene was playing out onboard Angie’s flight, right before take-off, Angie got up out of her seat and informed security she wasn’t going anywhere. The helpful security chap who was clearly a romantic at heart assured her, “if you don't want to go, I can get you off this plane!" A couple of hours later, she was on Craig’s doorstep and a dynamic team was formed.
Together Craig and Angie headed to the Okanagan Valley, in Canada and spent two happy seasons in what can only be described as stunning quintessential wine country. Working for the Culmina Family Estate helping them step their big commercial operation back to a small and tight vineyard and winery. Craig worked with Bordeaux varietals, Chardonnay, Riesling and Gruner Veltliner, planting and growing with great success. After two seasons of incredible learning and incredible scenery, serendipity struck again and Craig and Angie were given the opportunity to return to NZ for an exciting new challenge. So, Craig, (with all the boxes now ticked - international wine experience, culture, travel and romance) decided with Angie, it was time to go home.
So, what was this challenge that could lure Craig and Angie away from the spoils of the wine rich Okanagan and back to the striking barren landscape of Bendigo? Well, Lamont of course! The Lamont originals, the McLachlan Family had become involved in other wine interests, and were looking for someone to take over the Lamont brand. Who better to ask than Craig? He was there at the start helping build the brand and he had gone from strength to strength acquiring new knowledge and skills since. The timing was right and the due diligence came up trumps so the new generation Lamont was born with Craig and Angie at the helm.
Not comfortable resting on their laurels, the ‘Lamont’s’ have been busy, Craig has added a new string to his bow – Sales, and is well known round town as the gumboot wearing wine guy. Angie can be seen manning the tractor and crusher, working hard alongside Craig on the land. There’s action happening in Bendigo too, the ‘Zola Vineyard’ (named after Craig’s loyal dog) is underway with ground being broken up on the stunning 4.2 hectare site early 2017, preparing for Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. There’s also a new addition to the team, young Joshua has arrived, making them three. This family is the real deal, creating their own legacy from the ground up, self-professed first-generation farmers, Craig and Angie love Bendigo and by the taste of the wine Bendigo loves them right back. Lamont is a small label, a special one, a rare breed in the big busy world of wine. It’s a wine with story and with solid kiwi roots. It’s safe to say that those of us that drink Lamont and love it should take a moment every now and again to tip our hats to the young lad who risked his neck acquiring the illicit bottle of Chardonnay that serendipitous day back in 1992 that lit the flame in young Craig and sent him on his journey. Thanks mate!