Juliet Cullinan, the founder of the Juliet Cullinan Standard Bank Wine Festival, which celebrates its 25th
anniversary in May, talks about her passion for wine as well as the evolution of the festival that had humble
beginnings to what is now among the country’s most prestigious wine events.
The corner stones of my life are peppered with memories of my first Sauternes, Meursault, Lanzerac Pinotage, my first mouthful of black forest cake, even brains on toast. At two years old I held my first empty Magnum of Bollinger and at four years old I arranged a table and party food for my dolls. In short my life has always been about entertaining, promoting and tasting fabulous wines. It was my father, Neil Cullinan, who first taught me to taste wine and how to identify the different varietal elements of taste, colour, bouquet and viscosity. But it
was my grandfather, Ronald Osborn who from a very young age, took me travelling, whether it was to the shores of Natal or slopes of Switzerland who made a huge impression on me. He told me “that he didn’t care if I failed in life, but he did care if I didn’t try”. If experiences shape one, these two men fired my passion and stoked it to follow my dreams, and never settle for anything less.
When I was in my early twenties, while I was holidaying in Hermanus, I invited a few winemakers to present their flagship wine at a private wine tasting. Peter Finlayson from Bouchard Finlayson, Tim Hamilton Russell, a pioneer in the Walker Bay area, Gyles Webb from Thelema and Jeff Grier from Villiera graced my event with their wonderful wines. I’d laid out one long tasting table to seat 40 shortand-T-shirt-clad guests who appeared to be spellbound, as they were introduced to the nuances and unique features of the wines. In common with best international practice, I had laid on tasting sheets so the guests could rate the wines, and laid out the rows of glasses of wine for them to taste.