The art behind producing great wine is much like the skills needed for sublime music. Just as beautiful instruments create wonderful sound, high-quality grapes are instrumental to producing wonderful wine. And the winemaker? Consider them a conductor, bringing all the elements together to produce a symphony for the eyes, nose and palate. And in sparkling wine’s case, the ears too if you listen carefully enough to the bubbles.
It’s that sense of craftsmanship – for each vintage is as unique as every concert – that lead Tasmania’s premier sparkling wine, House of Arras, to sponsor the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, announcing a three-year partnership in 2018. We interviewed Principal Double Bass Kees Boersma along with our winemaker Ed Carr to see why this partnership is music to our ears and discovered both artisans continue to work hard to refine their craft.
For nearly 25 years, House of Arras Chief Winemaker Ed Carr has focused his dedication, patience and precision on producing a truly luxurious sparkling Australian wine for people to enjoy. That effort and excellence have not gone unnoticed. Last year, Ed became the only non-Champagne winemaker honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award in the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships.
And just as the Sydney Symphony Orchestra has built an international reputation as one of the world’s finest orchestras, House of Arras is also recognised globally for its world-class Australian sparkling wines, which have won nearly 100 trophies and more than 220 gold medals.
Explaining the three-year sponsorship deal to support the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, making House of Arras the orchestra’s official sparkling wine, Ed said he wanted to elevate the sensory experience for music lovers attending Sydney Symphony Orchestra events. The deal brings together two unique organisations with shared philosophies and ethos. “It takes a unique individual to push the envelope of their craft to become a skilled professional musician and member of the world-renowned Sydney Symphony Orchestra,” Ed said.
The Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s 2019 concert season is ambitious and wide-ranging, from the finest works of the Romantic and Classical periods to works by 12th-century mystics and contemporary pieces by Steve Reich and jazz legend Wynton Marsalis. Some 41 guest artists will join the 90-member Sydney Symphony Orchestra in more than 100 performances for David Robertson’s final season as Chief Conductor and Artistic Director.
House of Arras Grand Vintage 2007 will be served at select top-tier Sydney Symphony Orchestra events throughout the season to complement the mastery of the orchestra at its best. It’s a sparkling awarded 97 points by James Halliday, who described it as exceptional. Tyson Stelzer called it “a history-making wine that will go down in Australian sparkling legend”, adding that he recently served it up against one of his favourite Champagnes to a sophisticated audience and it won the vote of the room.
The 2019 season highlights the Sydney Symphony Orchestra’s diverse talents and a team at the height of its powers. Full details are available online at sydneysymphony.com.
Principal Double Bass Kees Boersma is one of those at the top of their game. As a Sydney Symphony Orchestra board member, he’s devoted his career to music for as long as Ed Carr has been focused on wine. 2019 is Kees’ 30th season with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, also he confesses that “it really doesn’t feel at all like a long time ago as I’ve been enjoying it so much”.
He’s come a long way since, like nearly everyone, his first instrument was a recorder and now plays a 200-year-old John Lott Snr. double bass and is acutely conscious of the craftsmanship and dedication that went into the precious tool of his trade. “It was made in London at a time when many great string instruments were being created by luthiers who were fascinated by instruments and arrived in the city at the start of the Industrial Revolution,” he explains. “Everyone from all over the world wanted to be in London, including many musicians at the time.”
Using such an old instrument to produce music is much like crafting wine from ancient vines. There is more complexity in both the sounds and flavours. And both Kees’ double bass and gnarled old vines must be cared for gently.
“I spend many hours every day both holding and drawing a sound from it, so enjoying the tone and being comfortable around the instrument is really important,” he said. Kees chose the double bass because he was drawn to its sound and physicality saying it was “love at first sight” when presented with an array of gleaming instruments in primary school.
Ed Carr decided to become a sparkling winemaker because of the specific challenges it entails. “Technically it’s quite complicated and when I started out, there was plenty of opportunity for improvement in Australian sparkling,” he said.
Today, both House of Arras and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra are recognised internationally as leaders in their respective fields.
Kees and Ed both acknowledge the importance of being part of a team to achieve their goals, saying it motivates and inspires them. For the strings player, the music drives him to explore its possibilities, while Ed’s pursuit is what can be created from the grapes in each harvest.
“It’s great to lead a team that is passionate in their respective field of expertise and craft wines of a high standard with global recognition. The motivation is to craft something special,” Ed said.
Kees feels similar magic emerging on stage. “When everyone works together well, it is a wonderful experience – it’s an incredible feeling being a part of the combined energies of 100 or more players merging to create great music,” he said.
Another value they share is how to make every “performance” – wine and music – better the next time. Ed said, “Each wine is crafted from the vineyard up. It is critical to follow the wine through its entire journey”. For Kees, it’s all about what the composer was seeking and responding to that.“In this respect, I’m always looking to play better and understand the music more fully,” he said. That interpretation is one of the more fascinating aspects of the musician’s craft.
“Playing music from earlier times relies on an understanding of performance style and conventions appropriate to that time. That’s where a comprehensive understanding of style and historical context is needed, to play as the music as the composer intended.”
But what he finds most fascinating about music is how it can leave a different impression each time Kees hears or plays it. Anyone who’s ever bought a cheap bottle of wine in situ on vacation and brought it home and tasted a vastly different wine at that point will be familiar with the experience.
“Sometimes, I’ll play a work which had previously not made any impact on me. Then, I’ll play it again, and often, something will ‘click’, and I feel that I start to understand something of what the composer may have meant or felt. That can happen out of the blue, like a bolt of lightning,” he said.
Inspiration can come from a wide variety of sources. “It can be a performance, a great painting, the experience of a strong emotion that seems to relate to something I’m playing,” Kees said. “It can be standing under a mighty tree! I was married under a 400-year-old river red gum – it was very moving and inspiring. I was inspired by the total physical and mental commitment shown by so many players at the Australian Open tennis. How do you bring that intensity to playing a musical instrument?”
We were curious to find out how much time he spends each week to hone his craft.
The Sydney Symphony Orchestra has a demanding program this year, and the father of two is also a lecturer in bass at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. “The amount I practise depends a little on what is going on musically at any given time, but my schedule with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra demands a constant level of weekly preparation for our programs,” he said. “Getting started early is so important, as it gives more time to experiment with doing things differently or more eﬃciently.”
Performing with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra is a full-time job. With two-and-a-half days of rehearsal on top of multiple performances per week, Kees says squeezing in two to three hours daily to practise “is my idea of heaven, but not always achievable”.
Luckily, he doesn’t have to get inside stainless steel tanks and scrub them clean to ensure a flawless performance during the next fermentation.
And what do the winemaker and musician enjoy outside of their own workplaces? Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ed Carr said various Champagnes, and in other styles pinot noir, tempranillo and grenache. “I think there are examples of inspirational wines from around the globe, and I tend to critically review all labels and wines that I see,” he said.
For Kees it’s seeing other ensembles, with a recent favourite being the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra – he played with them for two seasons – in Amsterdam. “It really was a revelation, a sensational performance of the music of Maurice Ravel and Jean Sibelius with Valery Gergiev conducting and Janine Jansen as violin soloist,” he said.
And naturally, Ed loves listening to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, while Kees looks forward to a glass of House of Arras sparkling after the performance. Some things are just meant to go together.