The best skiing in the world, with Alister Purbrick, CEO & winemaker at Tahbilk, Nagambie Lakes, Victoria

by Saturday, May 19, 2018

I love snow skiing and will go anywhere to find great, deep, powder snow to ski. My favourite travel destination is where I have enjoyed the consistently best skiing in the world – in Niseko, in Hokkaido, which is near Chitose Airport on Japan’s north island. The snow is regularly knee- to waist-deep. I’ve even skied mid-chest deep a few times. It’s soft and fluffy, like skiing in cotton wool. I also love Hirafu Village, where we stay. It’s quintessentially and uniquely Japanese. Lots of small, quaint and quirky restaurants and bars. It’s very social and very fun. I love it so much that January 2018 was my seventh visit. My first was about 15 years ago.

Alister Purbrick.

Top tip

Dine at Ezo Seafood. The seafood is purchased fresh from the market on the coast every day. The King Red Crab is to die for. In fact, everything on the menu is to die for. I guarantee it will be a culinary experience that will blow your mind – sorry, palate.

Heli-skiing at Whistler, Canada.

What he always packs

Wine… and lots of it. We like to drink well. Doesn’t everyone, particularly we winemakers. And I’ll usually take as many older reds as possible (at least 10-15 years old and preferably 20-30 years old); the odd, older, white wine; a sticky [sweet or dessert-style wine]; with a 1930s Seppelts Para Liqueur Port, thrown in for good measure.

Niseko, Japan.

A future travel destination

I love Italy and have seen a lot of it over the years. Tuscany would come a very close second to Niseko as my favourite destination, but there are still many places I’m yet to experience there, like Sardinia. I definitely have this island, across the Tyrrhenian Sea from Rome, on my Bucket List. Everyone who has visited this rugged Italian island comes back with glowing praise. The must-see highlights, as I’ve been told, are the Miniera di Su Zurfuru (a mine near a beautiful village), Isola di Spargi (a cruise around the coast and its inlets), and a wine tour is a must. I’m also told the food and the nightlife are excellent.

A travel disaster – or near miss

We had just signed off a big distribution deal in America in the late 1990s and my business partners and I decided we should all head out to celebrate. We ended up at a well-known restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. Some of us chose oysters to start and I had eaten a couple, which I thought tasted a bit metallic, when one of our group announced that he thought the oysters were off. I then had a better smell of the offending oysters, as did everyone present, and we all agreed that they were no good. We asked the waiter to come smell the oysters but he was adamant that the oysters smelt OK and informed us that they were freshly shucked that day.

We decided to leave. We found another restaurant, had a great meal, some terrific Californian wine and lots of laughs… and none of us that had eaten a few tainted oysters had any ill effects.

The next day, I was up early and on my way to the airport to fly to Europe and feeling fine. Just as I was boarding my flight my stomach did its first roll and so it continued for the whole flight. Vomit, drink water, vomit, drink water then dry retch, drink water, dry retch, drink water… you get the picture. As it turned out, it took me about two weeks to fully recover and I’ve never felt as ill before or since.

Alister in action.

About Alister Purbrick

Alister Purbrick has over 35 years’ experience in the tourism, wine and liquor industries. He began as Winemaker for Mildara Wines (Coonawarra and Mildura) in 1976 (now part of the Fosters Group) before returning to Tahbilk as Chief Winemaker in 1978. Alister was appointed Chief Executive of Tahbilk in 1980 and immediately set a new strategic direction for the company which included a dramatic increase in vineyard planting in the Nagambie Lakes region, the construction of a new state of the art white grape processing facility (which revolutionised and dramatically increased the quality of Tahbilk’s white wines) and the installation and commissioning of a modern fully automatic bottling line. In 1990 a new strategic plan was agreed by the family and this plan has been followed and steadily implemented to this day. This has led to investment and control of a number of other distribution, winery and packaging operations, brand joint ventures and vineyard operations which include McPherson Wines, Four Sisters, The Wine Company and Ozpak. Today the Tahbilk Group consists of 12 separate corporate entities and profit centres. Alister has also been actively involved in Australian Wine Industry affairs since 1984 and has held the following positions:

  • President of the Winemakers Federation of Australia 1999 – 2001 and Board member from 1990 – 2003 and 2016 – present.
  • President of the Australian Regional Winemakers Forum 1989 – 1992 and 1994 – 1996.
  • Member of the Selection Committee of the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation / WA / AGWA / WA Board 1989 – 2003, 2017 – present.
  • Member of the National Wine Health Steering Committee 1999 – 2001.
  • Inaugural Chairman of the Wine Industry National Environment Committee 2002 – 2005.
  • Inaugural Chairman of the Australian Wine and Brandy Bulk Wine Task Force 2000 – 2005.
  • Member of the International Trade and Technical Advisory Committee 1990 – 1997.
  • Member of the Marketing Development Advisory Committee (formerly the Australian Wine Export Council) 1993 – 2005.

Alister was also the inaugural Chairman of Australia’s First Families of Wine 2006 – 2010 (which was launched on 31 August 2009). Awarded Melbourne Wine and Food Festival “Legend” status in 2011. Received the Len Evans Award for Australian Wine Industry Leadership in 2012. Elected as a Councillor for the Shire of Strathbogie 2012 – 2016.


Main image: Mt. Yotei, Hirafu, Japan.