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Wendler on Wine
10 June, 2010  
Francis Douglas on wine, family and Fiji

Wine buff and barrister Gabriel Wendler interviews Francis Douglas QC about his family’s legal legacy, his love of the grape, and his short but decisive time as a Fiji appeal judge


imageWendler: Your father was Justice James Archibald Douglas of the Supreme Court of Queensland. Your late older brother Robert, was a member of the Supreme Court of Queensland. Your younger brother James, once associate to the Chief Justice Sir Harry Gibbs, is currently a judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland and your cousin is president of the Queensland Bar Association. How is it that you decided to practise law in Sydney rather than Brisbane?

Douglas (pic): Because I thought that at last one of us could outdo the Streets and there were too many of us in Brisbane. Like Thomas Erskine, the younger son of the Earl of Buchan, who is a very distant relation, I decided to play the pound table rather than the shilling table. I am not sure I have prospered from that decision.

Wendler: You have a lengthy and passionate association with the world of wine – as collector, part-time vigneron and, of course, drinker. When and how did your interest in wine commence. Was there a particular person or event that precipitated your interest?

Douglas: My father. He became interested in wine in the early 1960s after a law conference in Adelaide. He was a member of the Brisbane Wine & Food Society.

Wendler: You are well travelled. What wine producing area of the world has fascinated you the most? Would you live there?

Douglas Burgundy. Yes, at least for part of the year.

imageWendler: In April last year you were a member of the Fiji Court of Appeal that heard the appeal in the matter of Qarase and others v Bainimarama. The court declared that dismissal of former Prime Minister Qarase, the dissolution of the parliament and the assumption of executive authority by the military unconstitutional. Do you think Fiji had a realistic chance of returning to democracy and the rule of law? Were you ever worried for your safety?

Douglas: I hoped that both factions would step aside and let the people have a go. But, I was never worried about my safety. The Fijians are a gentle people who are most dangerous on the rugby field.

Wendler: You have been a long standing member of the First Monday of the Month Table – a gathering of knowledgeable wine connoisseurs. At the monthly dinners each member contributes a secret wine that remains masked during tasting. Members are invited to identify wine characteristics such as maker, region, grape variety and vintage. What have been the three most extraordinary wines you have experienced at one of these gatherings?

Douglas: Impossible to say, but if pressed: 1934 Beaune AC, 1945 Ch.Latour, and 1990 La Tache DRC

Wendler: Not so long ago you were in a winemaking partnership in Tasmania’s Coal Valley. Greg Mellick SC was the other half of this partnership. How did you manage to juggle a busy silk’s practise with wine making?

Douglas: By making Mellick do all the work.

Wendler: Name the six most extraordinary red wines that remain in your taste memory.

Douglas: 1945 Ch.La Tour, 1961 La Chapelle (Hermitage), 1961 Ch.Palmer, 1978 La Tache DRC, 1982 Ch.Cheval Blanc, 2000 Clos Vougeot (Leroy).

Wendler: Are you for or against stelvin capsule wine closure? Do you think that high end French Burgundies such as the DRCs will ever go stelvin?

Douglas: Very much for. Impossible to say. Certainly not until they have thoroughly researched it over a long period of time.

imageWendler: As you know, international wine critic Hugh Johnson is not enamoured with the 100 points wine evaluation system. Do you, like Johnson, believe that its a numbers game and promotes wine elitism?

Douglas: Yes. The super expensive wines cannot justify the price differential. When I first started collecting mere mortals could drink the greatest wines. Now its a billionaires game.

Wendler: What are you drinking and collecting at the moment?

Douglas: I am drinking (in moderation) but not collecting much. Mostly Burgundy, Rhones, some Bordeaux and Italian wines particularly from Piedmont.

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Previous wine columns from Wendler