View From The Blind Side – Interview with CP Lin

The following is a copy of an article that featured in the Mainland section of the press this week. CP gives an interesting perspective on how we should view our wine heritage, where and how we should move forward in the economic climate, and how he finds the beautiful women!

Here is the extremely interesting, albeit long, article:

“Those attending Burnside High School’s 50th Jubilee at Easter will drink two special pinot noirs created by former student Chung-Pin Lin. The blind winemaker talks to John Donnacie.
“Just call me CP,” says the casually dressed Chung-Pin Lin who greets me with his golden Labrador Winston at the door, of his modern but modest Ilam home.
The blinds are drawn and he suggests we sit in the lounge where it will be more comfortable. Chung-Pin Lin is winemaker at Waipara Mountford Estate and a consultant in Australia, Europe and the United States.
Lin, 38, lost both eyes to retinoblastoma, a rare eye cancer, at the age of two. Now with prosthetic eyes he recalls his early childhood in Taiwan.
“I have always been curious about things. When I was three or four years old I used to take things apart and then put them back together again. I was constantly in trouble because I had an inquisitive mind.
“I really had no idea what I was going to do. I had no ambitions, I listened to the radio a lot, computers were primitive then, and there was no online community. I spent a lot of time listening to shortwave radio getting as much information as I could. I would listen to many international stations. It opened up my entire world; it was the biggest influence on my whole life. I still have this radio and it still works.”
Lin, the oldest of three siblings, was 13 years old when he came to New Zealand with his family in November 1984. He settled quickly into his new surroundings.
“I was lucky. For a lot of blind people this is not always the case. I had economic support from my family. I had tutors. I went to an ordinary school. I never got bullied. I had many friends. I suppose I was reasonably outgoing.”
Owen Bell, a former science teacher at Burnside High School, remembers Lin as an astute student who was advance for his age and popular with his fellow students.
His Asian background places great importance on the virtues of maths and sciences. Lin excelled in both, and by 19 he had graduated from Canterbury University with a BSc in mathematics.
Rather than a time of great satisfaction, for Lin it meant little. “I was very bored. Basically, I did what a lot of people make the mistake of doing, they do what they are good at rather than what they enjoy doing.  I never wanted to get into academia. For me it was a misguided route.”
Above all, Lin said he found the social life at Canterbury University “tragic”. However the university did have a wine club, and although he knew nothing about wine, Lin said his inquiring mind and pursuit of a more vibrant social life prompted him to go along.
“From the first night I got hooked, it changed my life. Of course, remember, I was still only 19, but it was a contrast to what I knew with academia and the sciences. This was practical, I was using my senses.”
Lin immediately discovered he had a talent for dissecting wine. He could tell from a wine glass what flavours were present and what aromas it gave off.
A trip overseas convinced Lin he should turn a ‘hobby into profession”.
By 1995 Lin had enrolled for a graduate diploma course in viticulture and oenology at Lincoln University. Significantly, the New Zealand wine industry was taking off globally at this time. Lin and an old varsity friend seized the moment. They started a business exporting wine to the fledging Asian wine market.
Things went well until the 1997 Asian economic crisis. Overnight, the market bottomed out. Then, a colourful encounter with a Waipara vineyard owner changed his fortunes.
“Towards the end of a lunch, the then owner of the Mountford Estate, Michael Eaton, overhead our conversation about wine and he suggested I try son of his. I tasted his vintage of 1990 and I told him it was crap. He did not speak to us after this.”
Afterwards, they took a walk around the vineyard. “When I came back to the house, I could smell Cuban cigars and I spoke out ‘who is smoking Cuban cigars?’ It was Michael. He quizzed me on how I knew it was Cuban. I explained I knew the smell, then he offered me one, a Monte Cristo No. 5 and we got talking and he asked,’ can you make my wine better?’”
Lin, who at this stage had experience of only two harvests, accepted the challenge, confident in his own ability to improve the Mountford Estate yield.
Recalls Eaton: “It was a great day when he appeared. He came back a few weeks later, went around the vineyard, felt the grapes, and seemed to know what he was talking about, so we offered him a job.”
Eaton says Lin transformed the estate. “He was a hard case. He drove me to distraction with his opinions, but these sorts of people are rare. For me, the big difference was his ability to maintain a level where he consistently produced stunning wines.”
So what makes a good wine?
After twelve years of overseeing yields in New Zealand and other parts of the world, Lin says, “Gee we could be here for hours. There is a large group of people who say ‘whatever I like is the best’. Then there is a smaller group of people, and I’m one of them, who say ‘what you like and what you think is the best changes with education and exposure’.
“The more you know, the more certain you are to make that judgement, so that makes you an expert.”
Lin says the difference between a good wine maker and a bad one is not necessarily down to the process itself. “It comes down to timing, having an understanding, the imagination, the artistic value; you have to be born with it. I believe it is a combination of instinct and experience of life in general. You see, you can go through the same experience as me but it is how you synthesise it, the order, and the magnitude of the experience. It is a talent of understanding what you are seeing. Some people get more out of something than others.”
Lin believes the New Zealand wine industry is complacent and faces difficult times unless it changes.
“We think of ourselves here as being vibrant, forward and successful, which we are, but in many ways we are not. We tend to listen only to ourselves and choose to ignore other opinions.
“New Zealand wines on a world scale have a long way to go. It is only in the last three years we have got competitive.”
Lin believes the industry here has to become more innovative to survive and this means it may have to abandon what has worked in the past to remain competitive globally.
“The future of New Zealand wine is our pinot noirs and our Rieslings. Sauvignon Blanc is on the way out. It cannot carry on in its current form of bulk selling to Australia and the UK. Customer fatigue will eventually be a factor.
“Sauvignon blanc was never considered a noble variety anyway, and is now regarded as a commodity. It is actually hurting all of us and it could be the downfall of a lot of people in the industry.”
Lin claims that many of the people in the industry are there for the wrong reasons.
“We really need to build on what we have, to consolidate it, to pass it on to the next generation, and it worries me because we are not doing this. Now there are very few people with the passion to do this. It is more about short-term commercial gain and survival in this current economic crisis, and for me, it is very sad.”
When asked if there is anything else he would like to do, Lin says apart from travelling to places he has not been, he would like to meet more beautiful women.
How can he possibly know if a woman is beautiful?
“It’s the whole package, you see, not just the look. Obviously, different people have different ideas. It is not a universal thing, but if you take the whole thing like a wine and you distil to its essence and you say what the qualities that make a great wine are and what qualities makes a beautiful woman, they are pretty similar. Of course, it is a holistic way of looking at it, not just a superficial kind of thing – voice, personality and what perfume she wears counts, too.”
Lin tells me his friends are often surprised that he is able to detect the presence of beautiful women.
“You see people will ignore some women, but not others. It is a question of evaluating the sort of people that are around these women. The atmosphere they create, and what they are saying to her and why they buy drinks, and why do they open doors for her. This way you see I can deduce from other people’s behaviour what she is like.”
Suggest to Lin that he is a role model for blind people and he disagrees. “Actually I am not. I have been lucky. Most blind people are not being encouraged the right way. There needs to be more thinking and more opportunities towards people with disabilities. We need to change our social views, and perhaps then more people like me will achieve.””

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About mountfordestate

A boutique vineyard and winery set on a hillside in a stunning park-like environment in the Waipara region of Canterbury New Zealand. Established in 1991 plantings include Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling. CP Lin's elegant, stylish, and unforgettable burgandian style wines have an international following.
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