Ian Botham won the hearts of his countrymen and a knighthood for his barnstorming exploits on the cricket pitch between 1974 and 1993.
In retirement, he followed the tried and trusted route from the crease to the commentary box. But in his latest venture he is back out in the field: not testing batsmen but challenging the winemakers of the New World.
He recently launched The Botham Series, his own range of bespoke wines. He talks affably about his passion for the grape, but some of the old Botham fire comes out at any suggestion he’s a ‘celebrity winemaker’. ‘This is nothing to do with cricket – underline that,’ he says.
Still, his old career has more than an aftertaste with names like The All-Rounder: his entry-level chardonnays and cabernet sauvignons. But he has certainly put in the hard yards, travelling the length and breadth of Australia and New Zealand, trying up to 150 blends a day, then facing a tough crowd of buyers and journalists to promote the new brand.
We asked Sir Ian to choose an over’s worth of memorable places he’s known on his viticultural travels.
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For many years, the tiny island between Britain and France was the home of John Arlott: cricket commentator, poet and wine writer. It was he who persuaded a young Botham to exchange the cider of his native Somerset for fine wines. Now Botham, too, has a house on Alderney, and every year he drinks a bottle in Arlott’s memory and leaves the cork at his graveside.
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Botham and his fellow cricketer Bob Willis were on tour and in a pub when they met the Aussie winemaker Geoff Merrill. That encounter ultimately led to the trio collaborating on the Botham Merrill Willis range in 2001. The wine in the bottle is as upfront in character as the names on the label. Merrill’s winery in Woodcroft, south of Adelaide, is always on Botham’s itinerary. Their cabernet sauvignon (‘the best Merrill has ever made’) is part of the premium Sir Ian Botham Collection.
The Mediterranean restaurant in the heart of Adelaide run by George and Voula Kasimatis is one of Botham’s favourites. ‘George always has an extra bottle he wants me to try,’ says Botham, who loves the ‘big country town’ that is the city of Adelaide. ‘I’m not a city boy. And 10 minutes’ away from the CBD you have the Adelaide Hills and boutique wineries everywhere.’
‘I love everything about the place. If I didn’t have cricket I’d spend all my time here,’ says Botham of the renowned tourist hub set on the banks of Lake Wakatipu. ‘You’re also five minutes’ from some fantastic vineyards and pinot noirs in the Gibbston Valley.’
For Sir Ian, The Botham Series is a reason to travel. High – literally – on the list is Argentina: ‘I really want to explore the hidden gems of the Mendoza region and its great high-altitude malbecs. I’m also really interested in English sparkling wine.’ So for this most patriotic of Englishmen, maybe a bottle from the chalky soil of his home country will bear the Botham name one day.