From the tasting team

The Tasting Team on James Halliday's retirement

By The Tasting Team

14 Jun, 2024

The Tasting Team respond to news of James Halliday’s retirement.

Campbell Mattinson

Halfway through the publishing process of my book The Wine Hunter, in 2006, there was a hiccup, and it looked as though the book may not be published. I was standing alongside James Halliday at a function around this time, during pre-dinner drinks, and without hesitation he said, “I’ll fund the publication of your book if it falls through”. I was nothing to James Halliday, I was a minnow of minnows, yet still his generosity was both as immediate as it was instinctive. I was floored. I was touched. The book overcame its hiccup but I never forgot his offer; James is a great judge of wine, but he’s an even greater person, deep down and true. My experience of the wine media is that a lot of people try to push you down. As you try to climb up, they’ll kick your fingers from the ledge. James Halliday was the opposite. The view was good from where he was, and he wanted you to see it. He was the same with wine. He had found the good stuff, and he wanted you to enjoy them too. That was his only motive. To share the bounty. For the reasons above and for a million others besides, I trusted him. He was trustworthy through and through. He inspired loyalty as a result, and in no small part, love.

Jeni Port

James Halliday is that perfect encapsulation of right man, right time, right place. A new generation of wine drinker awakened in the early 1980s – myself included – and, like many, before I met him, I knew him through his books. His words resonated deeply. They still do. He is a wine writer and wine educator par excellence. He is also an innovator, something rarely acknowledged. His passion for pinot noir brought him to the Yarra Valley in 1985 at a time when cabernet sauvignon ruled the region. He showed pinot could work and work quite magnificently! His vision encouraged and paved the way for producers – and us drinkers – to believe in the future of the grape in this country. And look where we are today! A master of both the written word and the wine in the glass, we shall never look upon his like again.

Jane Faulkner, Jeni Port, Toni Paterson MW, Shanteh WaleJane Faulkner, Jeni Port, Toni Paterson MW and Shanteh Wale.

Jane Faulkner

Before I turned my love of wine into a career, there was James Halliday to guide me. As a tyro, I bought his books – including the Companion – and read his newspaper column. I’ve never been one to follow blindly but I learnt so much; then, more so, as a writer thanks to his acuity, unsurpassed knowledge, and love of Australian wine plus its history. And not to forget his first love, Burgundy. It won’t feel quite right to be at tastings or events without James in the room. He leaves a hole that can’t be filled by any other. I’ll also miss his wry sense of humour and his fabulous, bushy eyebrows with a life of their own. I’ll just miss him.

Marcus Ellis

There is no question that James is a towering figure in the wine world, an immense presence that we are, to some degree, in the shadow of. But his mission has never been to shade, but rather to illuminate, with that voracious passion for wine matched by an equally fervent desire to share the joy of it – both in words and in the glass. A combination of technical nous, sharp intellect, erudition and a flair for language helped shape this whole thing of loving wine and sharing it with others into a ‘real’ job. Some of us are very thankful for that!
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James is a great judge of wine, but he’s an even greater person, deep down and true. – Campbell Mattinson

Mike Bennie

When I first started learning about wine I went to a lot of resources to gain better understanding of it. Of the most significant were James’ varied books and resources. I loved the idea that a lawyer could turn wine writer and find a successful career, and this somewhat mirrored my own trajectory – he was and is an inspiration in this regard. Fondest of all memories is a week-or-so trip to Europe through Rioja, Champagne and Paris, that James and I shared as an original odd couple of wine, on the wine trail; listening to his reels of incredible vinous stories, sharing his knowledge and learning by his example of diligence and professionalism was significant to me. He had a story or recollection for every twist and turn, an endless font of knowledge. It was wonderful to be so immersed. I can’t imagine anyone else making such an impact on the Australian wine community – he will be so very much missed.

Philip Rich

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing James for over 30 years. It’s been an honour to judge with him, be on various (mainly pinot noir) panels, and to have been part of two different small wine groups over the years, not to mention a career highlight in being the second person to chair the James Halliday Chardonnay Challenge. What has always stood out is James’ generosity with his knowledge and in sharing some truly amazing wines from his legendary cellar. Nothing sums this up more than the night he addressed the myth of the late French-born, London-based wine merchant and writer Andre Simon, who having fretted that he’d never be able to drink all the wines he’d collected is said to have timed it perfectly by having only one bottle of wine left in his cellar when he died in 1970. James’ tongue in cheek response, which I have quoted many times over the years, is that the reason Simon died is: “because he only had one bottle left in his cellar!”.

Dave BrookesDave Brookes.

Toni Paterson MW

James’ influence on my career was profound, providing me with the foundational knowledge I needed to embark on my journey in the wine industry. In the pre-internet era, the Wine Atlas of Australia, published in 1991, was my bible. It wasn’t just the comprehensive maps, extensive varietal details, and personal stories of winemakers that captivated me, but also James’ witty, learned prose, historical insights, and unwavering support for the Australian wine industry. No one knew Australian wines better than James, and, more importantly, he had a unique ability to contextualise our wine styles within the broader international landscape.

Shanteh Wale

James’ impact on and advancement of the Australian wine industry are indisputable. To me, he has always represented a dependable and authoritative voice on wine. Every moment spent in his company has been a profound learning experience. He has set an exceptionally high standard with his dedication and devotion to the grape, from which we will continue to reap benefits for decades to come. I am eternally grateful.

Dave Brookes

Since I began my wine career in wine retail over 30 years ago, James’ voice has always held more weight than other Australian wine communicators; he seemed to operate at a different valence with an ability to both break down the barriers that wine can throw up and inspire with tales of the greatest wines of the world. I consumed his words voraciously, read his books and wine columns religiously, knowledge passed on through print settling in a sedimentary fashion, slowly ossifying, and building my own nascent wine lexicon through his words. Many years on, his influence on my wine career has been immeasurable and I sometimes have to pinch myself when ruminating on how I arrived at a position on his Tasting Team. So, thank you James, for inspiring me to delve deeply into the world of wine, and our conversations at dinners. Enjoy your retirement.