Tuesday Mar 28

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Sir John Hegarty

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Issue #02 - Interviews

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We’ve met our share of advertising luminaries – but sitting down for luncheon with Sir John Hegarty was greatly anticipated.


nvisaging that there may be some trepidation among the handful of Adfest delegates at our table, we felt that it was fitting to smuggle a few bottles of wine into the alcohol-free event. Perhaps the party poppers, glitter bombs and plastic horns were excessive, but nobody at our table complained. It’s rare you’ll find Sir John blowing his own horn, let alone yours ...

IMG_0307So, the scene was set and the repartee began. Given he is the chairman and global ECD of one of the world’s leading advertising agencies, BBH, and his views on advertising are already widely known - we decided to chat to him about making his own wine.

Agency.Asia: Most everybody in advertising or indeed marketing recognizes the BBH black sheep. Far fewer would associate that fellow with your exceedingly picturesque vineyard in France. One presumes that it is remarkably Zen being a winemaker - perennially waiting for something to happen very slowly. It is also undoubtedly a labour of love, so what on earth moved you and your partner to start Hegarty Chamans?

Sir John Hegarty: A moment of madness. People ask me, do you have a 5 year plan? I say no, I have a 5 minute plan. And so it was in purchasing a vineyard. My logic was to do something that was diametrically opposite to advertising. Our business is ephemeral. What we create lasts for a fleeting moment and then is gone.

Wine making is at the other end of the scale. It requires patience, time and deep pockets. Remembering what you’re making will take years to mature and be ready for consumption when nature decides.

Agency.Asia: Among the stockpile of news clippings whose professorial authors extol the virtues of your stable of wines, we found one that describes the Hegarty Chamans, Cuvee 2, 2004 thus:

…with bright red fruit, lashings of sweet spices and beautiful balance, this is a true treat if you are into the darker side of the arts. With more gaminess than a Laird’s Barbour and more polish than Cary Grant, this wine is a classic dichotomy – part genial host, part daydreaming psycho.

’ The ‘Top 250 Wines of the Year’ reviewer, Matthew Jukes, clearly wants to be a copywriter. It must be said, many of your wines boast a rather high alcohol content. Perhaps you would like to comment about that – and now rumours that they are spiked with LSD.

Sir John Hegarty: The rumours about our wine being spiked with LSD are completely unfounded. Mind you the way some governments tax wine you would have thought it did contain something illegal. Our wines tend to be slightly higher in alcohol because they come from the South of France. It has very hot summers.The more heat the more sugar in your fruit. The more sugar the more alcohol. The issue isn’t necessarily the amount of alcohol but how well integrated it is. Wine writers say ours is well integrated. But I would say that, wouldn’t I.

Agency.Asia: Hegarty Chamans is somewhat isolated from its neighbours, the other wineries in the Montaigne Noire foothills. How do the French regard an English knight back on their hallowed soil? You’re not angling to rekindle the Hundred Year War between these mostly friendly nations are you, Sir John?

Sir John Hegarty: Our wine region is known as the Languedoc-Roussillon. It’s the largest wine region in the world. For quite some time it was renowned for making cheap wine. Over the last 25years wine makers have been taking up residence changing the reputation of the region from one producing cheap wines to one of quality. So the more people that invest in the region the more it does for everyone already there. There’s been no war only support. Consequently it has been described as the most exciting wine regions in the world.


Agency.Asia: Explain your non-interventionist organic farming philosophy - and how that perhaps conflicts with the somewhat gritty establishment in France. You mention several times on your website that your wines are ‘bottled to the cycles of the moon’. If we might be so bold, it sounds like you might have shared a few bottles of that Hegarty Chamans, Cuvee 2 with Sir Paul and Sir Ringo.

What’s that all about?

Sir John Hegarty: I’m not sure where you get gritty from. Chamans is situated in a beautiful site. Have a look at our website. We bottle by the moon because our red wine is unfiltered. Most wines are filtered. A filtering agent is placed in the wine to get rid of sediment. In doing this, apart from adding something to your wine, you’re also taking away some of the natural flavours. We let our red wine settle in the tank before bottling. But at certain times of the month the moon will disturb the wine. We know what it does to tides. So you have to bottle when the wine is stable.

Agency.Asia: You labelled two of your vintages ‘Black Knight’ [2005] & ‘White Knight’ [2004]. What sets these two ‘Limited Edition’ wines apart from your stable of other fine rouge and blanc? In fact, you recommend that the ‘Black Knight’ not be drunk ‘til 2010/2020. Do you think any of your friends and customers were sensible enough to wait, or are you expecting to go down to the cellar for more?

Sir John Hegarty: Black Knight is a special cuveé made from only selected plots of Syrah (Shiraz to Australians) The Syrah is left on the vines until it reaches maximum ripeness, it then appears black. At this moment its hand picked, vinified and aged in oak barrels for almost 2 years.

The wine develops character and sophistication. The longer you leave it the better it gets. It also celebrates my knighthood. Consequently Black (from the grapes) knight. The White Knight was a dessert wine we experimented with in 2004. Even though it was a great success. Dessert wine is not my thing. So we didn’t pursue it.

Agency.Asia: Whether for money or enjoyment, which of your Hegarty Chamans wines do you feel will make the best investment? Indeed, what is your view on investing in wine purely for profit’s sake?

Sir John Hegarty: I don’t buy wine for investment although some people do. I suppose unlike some investments whatever happens to wine at least you’re left with something you can drink. As I’ve said Black Knight would be a wine worth laying down. We make very little of it and it gets better over time. However, I think the best reward is to open a bottle and drink it.

Discover where these wines can be found internationally – www.hegartychamans.com

Agency.Asia: This is a beautiful picture. If we were to be pernickety, however, the hero sheep is facing the wrong way – or perhaps that should be the right way. By its very nature, that metaphorical black sheep was surely going to be one uncooperative goat. Clearly, you personally have no such problems steering a global empire. Your BBH network vicariously sells itself these days. It must be an interesting departure - or return - from the rigours of growing BBH for you to once again be marketing your own niche brand.

Sir John Hegarty: It’s very interesting making your own brand. Suddenly you have to make all the important decisions yourself. Instead of just making recommendations. The difference in the wine industry is I have a potential of a 100,000 brands plus. Whereas in most other markets you’d have a maximum of say 12 or so. It therefore demands of you to be very focussed and patient.

Agency.Asia: We had better also ask you a couple of advertising questions. BBH was actually the first foreign agency allowed to operate independently in China. That’s like being the first man to run the three-minute mile and you must have been chuffed. One must assume that you have therefore come face-to-face with ‘face’? As we discussed with Neil French, the custom of “giving face” leaves many foreigners scratching their head – and even us natives. Meetings that might be over in minutes in the West will grind on for hours and even days - very politely - in Asia. Having two BBH shops in the region, can you share some fun anecdotes?

Sir John Hegarty: The only incident I can remember is when I was presenting some creative work to one of the top Japanese managers at Sony Ericsson.

I naturally presented my business card with a black sheep on it. He looked at it and after a pause enquired why did I have a bull on my card. I thought, oh my god. I’m about to present creative work to a man who can’t tell the difference between a bull and a sheep.

When I recounted this story to my partners sometime later they said, well I suppose you don’t get many sheep in Japan. To which I replied, you don’t get many camels in Britain but I can tell the difference between a horse and a camel. As I remember he didn’t think much of the creative work.

Agency.Asia: Your office in Singapore has just created a novel app that looks set to go viral. It will hopefully cut down on office waste by making the sound of a chainsaw rise from people’s desktops every time they hit print and the print option box appears [www.papercut.com]. Many ad industry creative people would argue that sound rings out almost every time that they present good creative work to clients – or account management. We conducted an impromptu poll over the years and most creatives from Sydney to Shanghai would agree that, over the course of their career, around 95% of their ideas never saw the light of day. How do you ‘Save the Idea’?

Sir John Hegarty: Only 5% of ideas get through? Creatives should console themselves with the fact that Van Gogh only sold one picture in his lifetime. And that was to his brother.

Agency.Asia: What do you tend to read while the grapes grow?

Sir John Hegarty: I read everything I can get my hands on. Magazines, newspapers, books. I have only one rule. Only read good things. It might just rub off.

Agency.Asia: As you perhaps know, we ask all of our guests who they feel would be the most interesting person for us to interview in the next edition. Who would you like us to tap on the shoulder?

Sir John Hegarty: I’ve always been fascinated with Hollywood. How it works how it develops pictures and how it makes them. William Goldman is one of the greatest screen writers. You’ll learn more from one of his books on the movie business, on how to write a commercial than you will from any book on advertising.

Sir John Hegarty

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