From Grapes to Graphics; Tony Ibbotson Talks Growing up at Saint Clair Family Estate

The middle child of the Ibbotson family, Tony, may no longer live in Marlborough but his involvement with Saint Clair Family Estate continues on creatively to this day. We reached out to him with a couple of questions and in true Tony-like fashion, he answered them with some of his trademark Ibbotson humour.

What has your involvement with Saint Clair consisted of over the years?

In the early days myself and my siblings were involved in helping to establish the first vineyards – run by the dictatorship of Neal and Judy Ibbotson, we were paid in brussels sprouts and boiled silverbeet from the grandparents. It was actually great motivation to stay in school.

At a later date and over a few vinos I was involved in the initial naming session. The runner up to the Saint Clair name was Donkey Dawkins but it was felt that perhaps it was lacking in a little prestige.

After the first Saint Clair vintage my popularity at University increased as I would usually return back to Christchurch with a case of wine that my flatmates and I would consume in a beer like fashion. This resulted in me not wasting as much of my student loan on beer and the breakdown of the occasional relationship.

I was involved in the original labels and have been ever since. The initial label resembled a bomb going off over the Richmond Ranges as a protest to the French testing of bombs in the South Pacific but over the years the labels have taken on less of a political stance.

What is your involvement with the company now?

Myself and my design company The Creative Method still do a lot of the design and marketing materials. Including label development, advertising and promotion. I still try to whenever possible have a hands-on approach to the design work although it works well-having others in my company work on creative as it brings fresh eyes.

Where do you live and what do you do outside of your work with Saint Clair?

I live in Sydney and through The Creative Method, we are lucky enough to work on many alcohol projects. From the big boys at Campari, Wild Turkey, Skyy Vodka, to new beer and rum projects at CCA. We also look at wine labels for the likes of Casella and Accolade.

Do you have kids of your own?

2 girls. India (9) and Mila (6) or as she likes to call it 6 and ¾. They are the laziest flatmates I have ever lived with. Useless.

What was it like growing up as Neal and Judy established their vineyards and their business?

I remember when Dad first told me that they were going to make their own wine. 4,000 cases I think in the first year. I thought, that sounds like and a lot of wine “What are you going to do if we can’t sell it all?”. Dad replied, “We’ll have a bloody big piss up!” I guess the piss up is pretty big these days!!

I feel incredibly grateful for the experience we had growing up with the building of Saint Clair. There was always a job to do which ultimately kept me away from the pitfalls of Blenheim being a tad on the boring side unless you established a drug habit or saw the light of the church.

If there is one thing Neal and Judy instilled in you, what would it be?

So many things, can’t be just one!
– Work your ass off and you can do whatever you want.
– Love what you do and be the best at it.
– Have fun doing it. Take what you do seriously but not yourself.
– Stay humble.
– Be grateful (Thanks Dawn)

What is your favourite wine?

Being on a self-imposed exile in Australia until I developed a palette I am a late bloomer. I love a bit of Dawn Bubbles to get a glow on as it’s the closest to beer that we make. Chardy for Mum’s scallop entree, and an Omaka Reserve Pinot to help wash the slow cooked beef or lamb down.

Do you have any stand out wine memories or memories of growing up with the establishment of Saint Clair?

So many…

• Convincing my younger sister Julie to work in the vineyards with me for months on end to buy a computer.
• Drinking too much wine and being sick on my friend Martin as he sat on the steps outside of a party.
• Untold meals around the kitchen table at home where usually the favourite (or only) conversation is Saint Clair.
• The black hole in my memory that occurs around every wine festival and NZ Wine Awards.
• Getting food poisoning in Dusseldorf from eating the liver. Sarina cleverly hid hers under the salad.
• All the great opportunities that have come from such great wine.
• All the great people that have come, stayed and gone.
• Winemakers who wear white pants and don’t play cricket.

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