Published on October 16 2012.
The son of Central Otago wine pioneers Rolfe and Lois Mills, Nick was born the year his parents planted Rippon Vineyard. He worked at several of Burgundy’s most esteemed domaines before returning the family vineyard in 2002.
Where did you grow up?
Rippon, Lake Wanaka, New Zealand
When did you know you were destined for a career in wine?
My path has never really felt pre-destined – nor does what I do feel like a career. I grew up as the son of winegrowers; my parents never pushed me into this craft, it has just always been there, since as long as I can remember. I guess growing up at Rippon, with your father having already proven how special the site is for Vitis vinifera (and your mother the ability to sell the product), why would you wish to do anything else?
Having said that, I worked with Rudi Bauer in the vines when I was a teenager and it was perhaps he who demonstrated to me earliest that it was a noble craft – that it has the sort of vastness of thought and action that never allows it to get dull. Talking potted philosophy in the vines with Rudi may well have been the first time I thought to myself – I can do this.
Have you always worked in the wine industry? Any other hidden talents?
Yes, pretty much been working in the vines since as soon as I could walk, but necessary distractions have happened along the way – competitive skiing, mountain-biking, native habitat restoration and, more recently, becoming a husband and a father – although whether I have any talent, hidden or otherwise, in those departments is open for discussion. I do think I’m pretty good, with the aid of my more special produce, at getting people singing on a bus.
What is your most memorable wine experience?
Impossible question. Some non-exhaustive standouts include...
Home: Hand-hoeing in the vines alongside my father - every morning of every summer.
Burgundy: Working with multi-generational winegrowing families, being granted a tiny part in the history of those people and their vineyards.
La Romanée-Conti: Hand-bottling the large formats. Locked in the cellar with Caroline Diel, a wine-thief and two glasses. Daily routine of rosé at 10am, Ratafia at 3pm, client tasting leftovers for dinner.
Piedmont in November: Three days and nights of white truffles and Barolo with a bunch of Burgundian loose units.
Rippon epiphany: Tasting the Rippon Pinot Noir 2003 for the first time and realising what the property is capable of.
Shared: Three drinks from the la coup de marriage (a traditional wedding cup): with my wife Jo, at our wedding and on the birth of our two boys.
Your favourite food or wine indulgence?
Food: Whitebait, Paua, Crayfish, Saucisson, Comte...
Wine: these days (with two young boys and decent sized mortgage) it’s bottles we shouldn’t be opening yet, or whatever Mike Weersing kindly sends us down.
Who has been your greatest influence?
How long have we got? As a starter for 10...
Life direction: Rolfe and Lois Mills, Peter Hatherly-Green, Joe Bennett, Rudi Bauer, Jean-Michel Jacob, a couple of nasty ski accidents
Skiing: Ben Gordon, Sam Hall, Rafe Maclean, Mike Douglas & BC bros, Jörgen Pääjärvi, Ross Mackay, Joey Guest, Morris Bardas, Hotdog, Les Bronzées, a couple of nasty accidents
Winegrowing: Rolfe Mills, Claude Bourguignon, Jules Chauvet, Theodore Schwenk, Rudolf Steiner, Pierre Masson, Alain Meunier & Sophie Confuron, Nicolas Potel, Aubert de Villaine, Maurice et Jacky Barthelmé , Mike Weersing
In everything else: My wife Jo, boys Toby & Ford Mills and my Wanaka family and friends
How do you like to relax when you’re not working?
I’ve yet to fully learn that skill. Hypnosis and hilltops get me close.