Meet the world’s surfing winemakers

Many of the world’s top wine regions double as surfing hotspots, but what else do the two passions and pastimes have in common? Speaking to six surfing winemakers around the world, Chris Howard examines the overlaps of wine and waves

Words by Chris Howard

Surf's up: Alentejo winemaker Pedro Pereira Gonçalves catches a wave in Portugal's Praia do Guincho

Bordeaux, the Western Cape, Margaret River…it’s no coincidence that some of the world’s premier wine-growing regions are also top surfing zones. Where land and sea meet, wine and surf cultures overlap in happy symbiosis.

Driven by an endless search for perfection, surfers and winemakers are some of the most passionate people around. When combined, we encounter individuals in rare step with the rhythms, cycles and forces of nature. Surfing winemakers understand that gracefully riding waves and guiding elegant wines are ultimately about listening and responding to the earth’s songlines. In both wave-riding and wine-growing, the medium is the maker.

We spoke with surfing winemakers from across the seas to see how the concept of terroir applies to both. Read on to explore the affinities and overlaps between these oceanic and terrestrial pursuits.

Trizanne Barnard – surfing winemakers

Trizanne Barnard

After working harvests and riding waves in Australia, France and Portugal, Barnard returned to her native South Africa. She made wine for Klein Constantia before establishing Trizanne Signature Wines in 2008, focusing on cool-climate coastal regions. Community-minded, the company supports Waves for Change, an organisation which aims to empower vulnerable youth through surfing.

On surfing and winemaking
‘Surfing is all about the elements – the tides, the winds – and so is wine-growing. We are in the hands of nature. We surf in different conditions each day just as our vintages differ every year.

On surfing terroir
‘Our great surf regions are our cooler-climate wine regions – the areas I prefer to select my grape parcels from. They’re not the easiest growing conditions, but the exact reason for making exceptionally complex wine with gravitas and integrity.’

Pedro Pereira Gonçalves – surfing winemakers
Pedro surfing

Pedro Pereira Gonçalves

Pedro Pereira Gonçalves leads Ravasqueira in Portugal’s Alentejo region. Previously, he worked in Australia, New Zealand and Chile, along with pursuing further studies at venerable institutions like UC Davis, Harvard and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Passionate about wine and surfing, Pereira Gonçalves explores how tradition and innovation can best express Alentejo’s terroir.

On surfing and winemaking
‘While surfing, we need to make the right decision at the right time, as with winemaking. Sometimes you don’t need to intervene and can just ride the wave, because the quality of the wave or the grapes are intrinsic. You need to be very strategic about the wave you choose when a set rolls in and the way you ride that wave, since you only have one chance. It’s the same in winemaking. The timing of interventions is critical and unique; they will forever define the wine in that vintage.’

On balancing both passions
‘The harvest is happening earlier year by year. But most years, as soon as the winery is clean and tidy, the timing is perfect to hit the waves.’ 

Bill Price III

Bill Price III

Dwelling between Honolulu and Sonoma, Price’s (pictured left) connection to the earth began in the water and grew with the vines. Proprietor of Sonoma’s Head High Wines, he has surfed around the Pacific for the past five decades. Like most ocean-going vignerons, he is especially environmentally and socially conscious, using profits to support good causes like Sustainable Surf and Duke’s Oceanfest.

On surfing and winemaking
Surfing and winemaking are long-term endeavours, often lifetime passions. The commonality between them is that you really need to know and respect nature to excel at either. Understanding seasonality to prepare for the period of action, but then being able to get 100% into the present moment.’

On the drive for sustainability
‘Surfers and winemakers can only excel if they are in sync with nature, its rhythms and nuances. It’s only right that if you live in concert with nature you want to sustain, nurture and live in harmony with it.’

Eben Sadie

Eben Sadie

Based in South Africa’s Swartland region, Sadie’s response below was fittingly delayed due to him being on a surf trip at a remote African outpost. Stewarding Sadie Family Wines, Sadie produces highly coveted wines based primarily around Rhône varieties from old bush vines.

On surfing and winemaking
‘There are essentially two types of surfers and winemakers: those who follow the contours and flow of the wave – and it becomes a type of ballet on water – and the surfer who just wants to shred everything to pieces with testosterone and ambition, but it is of little beauty, just brute force. The same with wine; we try to follow the flow of nature, farm with nature and allow the wine in the cellar to become its own and to express a sense of place.

‘When you surf an old school single-fin surfboard, you soon learn that there truly is only one line in the wave where the board sits effortlessly and turns perfectly. With thrusters [modern three-fin shortboards], you surf where and how you want, regardless of the wave’s shape. But both worlds exist and it is not a contest.’

On terroir
‘My view is that, as the ocean floor shapes waves so too does the floor of the earth shape wines.’

Jo Perry

Jo Perry

After working vintages and surfing around the world, Perry returned to Margaret River and established her natural wine label, Dormilona. Despite Western Australia’s world-class breaks, her favourite spot is Patos in the Rías Baixas region of Spain, where she lived, made wine and surfed for six years. It’s also where her son and surf buddy was born. Today, when a swell is running, she takes him out of school and leaves her wines on the skins.

On surfing and winemaking
‘Growing up in WA meant all family holidays were about the ocean or jumping off the back of a boat. I did many a vintage about the globe with surfboard in tow – Bordeaux, New Zealand, California, Spain, just to name a few with waves.’

On balancing both passions
‘I generally pick earlier than most producers down here. As a natural winemaker, I like to get the grapes with more acid, meaning an earlier harvest. Plus, I leave the ferments on skins way longer than most – meaning I have more time to surf during the autumn months and less in winter.’

Sebastián Labbé

Sebastián Labbé

Labbé roams the coast and vineyards of central Chile as Santa Rita’s ultra-premium winemaker. Previously, he studied, worked and surfed in New Zealand and Australia before becoming head winemaker at Viña Carmen, where he appropriately curated the Wave Series. A proud father of four surfing sons, Labbé dwells in the vicinity of four world-class point breaks.

On surfing and winemaking
‘Surfers and winemakers are tuned into their environments, always watching how the weather and different elements affect the site. All that knowledge is something I really admire about the Old World – the way they pass it down from generation to generation. For example: “Be careful about that hill in Piedmont that ripens a little early; you gotta pick it before the rest!”

‘Lots of limits are being pushed right now in viticulture and surfing. People are riding bigger, crazier waves and planting vines in new areas. In Chile, as the climate changes, people are exploring new terroir for wine and discovering new waves.’

On the art of observation
I realised I can get more done by walking the vineyards. If we don’t pick well, it’s so difficult to get it right. It’s much the same with surfing. It’s about spending time on the coast, observing how conditions change. Eventually, you know when and where the waves will be pumping, just like you know a certain block needs to be picked.’