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Made the wine, got the T shirt

Felton Road T shirts have become rather a coveted thing over the past two decades. It started in 2001 when I thought I’d create a T shirt for the harvest and winery team to celebrate the vintage. In my past life it was almost standard to have T shirts, sweats, even Jackets to mark a big tour or event, so I brought a bit of my culture to the wine world. Being fond of bad puns, we took a movie theme and thus 2001: a Grape Odyssey was born. 

The next year we stayed with the movie idea and celebrated the start of Peter Jackson’s epic with The Lord of the Drinks: a design that has become something of a cult classic among those with a collection.

2003 we had the new winery with its magnificent cellar, and so Blair Walter and the Chamber of Secrets was born. This movie trend continued until 2007; inevitably a Bond wine, with Dr P No.

After that the themes roamed far and wide,  ranging from illustration, black humour (the inevitable All Noirs when we had made the first 15 vintages) and the occasional dips to surrealism, some of which still leave people scratching their heads.

The rules were simple: to get the T shirt, you had to work here, either pick grapes or help make the wine. No hangers-on.  A very few people have the full set. Over the years I’ve lost one or two of them and most are looking pretty worn, but it represents a 22 year record of adrenaline fuelled harvests; elation, despair and everything in between. 

Occasionally we have had some egg on our face. In 2020 we celebrated New Zealand’s remarkable elimination of the pandemic with “The Land of the Long Gone Covid” which looks a little off message now!

2022 presented something of a dilemma. I had a plan, but as vintage loomed large, not only was Covid sweeping through the country, but war had broken out in Ukraine. Funny T Shirts didn’t seem the order of the day. I thought long and hard about the appropriate solution. Finally a thought came. 

Almost 2000 years ago, the Roman poet Juvenal, coined the idea of a Black Swan. It was used as a reference to something that didn’t exist and gained a general usage; a sort of “You’ve about as much chance of seeing your team win on Saturday as seeing a Black Swan”. It wasn’t until the first Europeans explored Australasia they found that this unicorn actually did exist after all. 

The economist Nassim Taleb brought it back to refer to the bad thing you never expected to happen, but which, in retrospect, you realise was always on the cards. This year it has been a term on everybody’s lips. And here we are in the land of Black Swans. So a simple illustration of this glorious creature became shirt 22. 

And 2023? Who knows… It will be the result of many good glasses and hard thinking. 


Nigel and the team at Felton Road