Rat blogger: Hi Josh! You are a winemaker from New Zealand but have suddenly found yourself presenting on Cellar Rats. How did that come about?
Josh: As you said, wine is in my blood and I run an urban winery called Renegade London Wine. I also make wine for a vineyard in West Sussex called Blackdown Ridge. I had been at Blackdown Ridge for a while when the Cellar Rats team came by to film and learn about our winemaking process. They interviewed me for the show and the intention was for the footage to be part of the UK episode. Just before they were due to leave to film in Spain one of the other presenters had problems and was unable to travel. Malcolm called me up out of the blue and asked “How would you like to come to Spain and do some presenting with us?” I was enthusiastic, but of course had no previous experience in TV presenting. He told me not to worry and assured me that I would soon get the hang of it! So there I was, literally thrown in at the deep end!
Rat blogger: Did you find the presenting a challenge?
Josh: Well, as part of my job as a winemaker I spend plenty of time talking to people about wine. I know the wine making process intimately, so I’m not afraid of standing up in front of a group of people and talking to them about it. That being said, talking to a camera is quite a different experience. There’s something about it which makes you more nervous than you usually would be, and it definitely takes a while to get used to. When you watch TV you don’t even think about the complexities of what goes into producing. I had to quickly learn how to relax in front of the camera but, the more times we filmed, the more comfortable I felt doing it. They say that you should just imagine that you’re talking to your best friend or partner when you look at the camera. But as much as I tried, it didn’t really work for me. I just had to practice, practice, practice!
Rat blogger: How did you get into the industry and decide to become a wine maker?
Josh: I actually went to university in New Zealand and studied to be a lawyer. That was something I had wanted to do since I was very young, and it felt like the right thing to do. After I finished law school I travelled and worked at vineyards in California, France and New Zealand. I just fell in love with the industry and realised that I wanted to be part of creating something. I began to see that I didn’t want my work life to be spent in the office every day, but instead I wanted to be outdoors, using my hands. So I retrained to become a winemaker and began to work in this field, first in New Zealand and then in the UK. I thought that moving to London would temporarily put the brakes on my winemaking but I was looking forward to studying other parts of the industry. Then I met this English guy who was looking to start and urban winery, but didn’t have a winemaking background. We teamed up and started Renegade London Wine… and everything sort of flowed from there.
Rat blogger: So what is different about an urban winery?
Josh: Well, I’m actually standing outside of the winery as we speak, which is in a railway arch in Bethnal Green. London rent is very expensive, so we work in a small confined space of 7m x 16m inside this arch, down an alleyway, and just off a busy main road! We make about 30,000 bottles of wine per year and the biggest challenge is somehow fitting big trucks down the alley during harvest season when we’re bringing in grapes from around the UK and Europe. It’s quite a different set of rules when you are an urban winery instead of a traditional winery in the countryside. Being urban gives us a unique selling point in that we can make wine right here in the City, surrounded by millions of keen wine consumers. They come to visit us and witness our wine making process and some come in and help us when we are processing the grapes and bottling the wine, which gives them an added connection. The world of wine is saturated when it comes to buying - you go to the wine shop or supermarket and there are hundreds of bottles on the shelf to choose from. There is no way of knowing which are decent quality unless you’ve tried them before, so it’s an added advantage for us to be able to present our wines directly to our customers to taste. We open as a bar five days a week and create a space where we encourage people to come in and ask questions. Whether they love it or loathe it, we want to hear what they think about our wine and there is no wrong answer! We just want to create a friendly environment for tasting and drinking wine.
Rat Blogger: How is your role as part of the Cellar Rats crew? What does a typical day on set look like?
Josh: Every day is different in this job, which make it so exciting! On the first filming trip I went on with Cellar Rats I didn’t know what to expect - but I did know that we were going to a wine region that created wines which I love. I was excited to see vineyards and taste wines that otherwise I perhaps wouldn’t get the chance to experience. Our team is full of lovely folks, and being the least experienced when it comes to understanding TV production, I let them guide me. I try to learn as much as I can from them and take on board what everyone wants and how the camera work is done. Malcolm as a director has the ability of letting things go where they want to flow. He’ll give a general idea of what he wants me to do and we’ll go from there. Usually it requires a few takes, especially with opening and closing segments, but we always get good footage in the end.
Rat blogger: What are your favourite moments from filming the show?
Josh: In Spain we visited the ancient caves of the Osbourne winery, which lie beneath some old buildings. The wine has been stored there for years and years. It’s a part of wine history that not many people from the general public would be granted to see. It was a spectacular place to taste their wines. We also took a hot air balloon ride over the vineyards in Rioja, which was an adventure for me, who doesn’t particularly like heights. It’s an amazing floating sensation, especially when the pilot is not blowing hot air into the balloon and you are just drifting with the air currents. It’s astonishing how fast you move through the sky, and of course the views of the vineyards were incomparable.
Rat blogger: What have been your biggest challenges whilst filming the show?
Josh: In Spain I found it quite difficult to connect with people who’s first language is not English. The language barrier makes it quite hard to create back and forth banter. There were a man who I interviewed at a winery, and the he didn’t speak any English so his daughter was translating for us. Despite the conversation being quite slow, and the editing room having more work to do, we did manage to build a rapport and got some great footage.
Rat blogger: What does the future hold for you?
Josh: I’m actually starting to do some work in New Zealand for a winery in the area where I grew up. But don’t worry, I will still be involved with Cellar Rats, I’ll just be flying in from a slightly different destination than the rest of the team. Several of the upcoming episodes will be filmed in locations where my distance is not so different than that of the rest of the crew. I think Canada will be really interesting because we’re going to visit the ice wine festival in Niagara Falls. Malcolm has also hinted at some adventurous activities, like snowmobiling and ice fishing! I can‘t wait! I am also involved with the new Itasca Wines venture and look forward to making wines for them as soon as the winery is kitted out.