From the tasting team

Wine critic changes world

By Campbell Mattinson

3 Jun, 2023

Campbell Mattinson on the (only) drawback of tasting wine for a living.

I arrived at the airport feeling sick, tired and annoyed. I’d just finished a five-day tour of three different wine regions, each day packed with the tasting of hundreds of wines, early morning until late at night. Concentrated in situ tasting like this is always both exhausting and invigorating; the problem on this trip was that I’d fallen sick from the mid-point onwards, but (this being pre-Covid) I’d ploughed on, even though I couldn’t taste properly because of the sickness.

“Tough day,” the security guy said as I heaved my carry-on bag onto the conveyer belt. “What you been doing?”

“Tasting wine,” I moped.

He brightened. “Sounds good!” he said.

“It,” I whined, “is my job.”

The physique of this security worker isn’t important, but he was a burly chap, and so when he straightened and filled his lungs and called out to his colleague on the next carousel, it sounded as though his voice boomed through the entirety of the airport. “Hey bro,” he called out. “Bloke here reckons he drinks wine for a living.”

A flight of white wineA tasting flight at the 2024 Halliday Wine Companion Awards judging.

And with that he and his colleague both burst out laughing, which then caused everyone else in the airport to turn to look at the person with one of the best jobs in the world, only to see a sick, tired and annoyed whinger who looked strung out, hang dog and defeated.

I was a writer before I was a wine person, though arguably the former drove me to the latter, and for a long time I held onto this label as writer first, wine person second because of the romantic notion that writers at their best can change the world, or at least have an impact on it.

Over the past few decades, I’ve realised that I, as a writer, am never going to change or effect the world, and so I might as well dive into wine. Little did I know that the time would come when wine would be integral to my own little world-changing moment.

We taste, us Halliday wine panel members, the bulk of the wines for each upcoming edition in an intense period over summer, starting in November and progressing through to March. Over the years I’ve tasted in a few different locations – different houses, different offices, a garage one year, and sometimes in concentrated bursts in the regions themselves. The common thread to every tasting season is the huge pressure it applies to your recycling bin. I had a cardboard skip permanently located at my house for 10 years. When I moved to a house where a permanent skip wasn’t possible, I’d load up my car with both flattened cardboard and empty bottles, and drive to the nearest tip/transfer station to offload it all. I’d make at least 20 trips each summer. 

Campbell Mattinson tasting a glass of white wineCampbell Mattinson.

I’ve long rented extra home recycling bins, which always fill to bursting with wine bottles. I once had my bins rejected by the recycling truck not because their contents were inappropriate, but because the bins themselves were too heavy. Ever since that rejection I have been so paranoid of it happening again that I literally don’t sleep properly the night before each collection, and then sit in the dark of the morning, coffee in hand, and wait for the loud, conclusive crash of each bottle-laden bin being emptied. I count them down. Only then can I relax.

One summer I rented an office in the main street of my suburb, and out the front of this office was a permanent council recycling bin. Needless to say, I took advantage of that bin. Every night I would slip 10 or 20 wine bottles into its slot. It was a wonderful summer. It eased the pressure on my recycling bin system enormously. I slept better. I didn’t whinge to anyone. That recycling bin out front of my office made me a better person.

And then, one day, I rocked up to my office and realised that something was wrong. The street looked different. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but then I saw a patch of fresh concrete, and then I realised that the bin was gone. I looked down the street and there it was, re-located, 50 metres away. They had moved the recycling bin, concreted it back in, and re-concreted the original location, all because of me.

I had changed the world. 

But then, in a way, I’d also done the same at the airport that day, even if only for a moment, by giving everyone a chance to laugh at me. These past couple of years have been rough; small mercies are what it’s all about.

Though, admittedly, I didn’t renew the office lease.