by Fred McMillin
for June 28, 1999


The Gentle Genius
Something Funny Happened on the Way to Tasmania


On our way to Tasmania for my wife to learn some exotic dishes, we stopped in Sydney, Australia. We had allowed time for a lunch with wine pioneer Dr. Max Lake. By the end of the meal, we had scrubbed Tasmania, because...as I wrote in the S.F. Independent, it was immediately apparent that Max Lake was "a man of prodigious intellect, charm and energy."

Dr. Max Lake

Dr. Lake checking ripenesss of his Cab, Feb. 19, 1974.

Example—The Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology asked him to deliver a paper on the flavor of wine. with eight topics, 20 figures, and 33 very technical references, the "paper" soon became a book, The Flavor of Wine. After reading it, a Melbourne reviewer's succint review read, "Lake is a genius."...We stayed with the Doctors Lake (he was a hand surgeon, she a Ph. D. psychologist) TEN DAYS...because Max was pioneering Australian Cabernet Sauvignon and the use of French oak aging among other innovations.

About that charm: The Cabernet grapes for his first vintage (1966) were "footstamped" by five friends to the tune of 'Zorba the Greek' with Dr. Lake on piano. One of the stompers was leading Australian wine professional Len Evans, who later would write, "Max is a dedicated winemaker with a staggering range of interests." After the publication of his 10th book Scents & Sensuality, dealing with the sense of smell, the New York Times would state, "Dr. Lake sees life as one grand taste test, which is certainly an endearing point of view." Now, about his Cabs.

Dr. Lake & McMillin

Mrs. McMillin with Dr. Lake in his cellar, 1974.

Our Wine of the Day

Critic James Halliday said, "Lake's Folly 1985 is among the winery's best Cabs. It should be fully mature in 10 to 15 years." Sounds fine, but how would I ever know?

Imagine my delight, when one of my panelists, Dr. Linus Hollis (anthropology, wine judge), found two bottles at a distress sale...for FIVE BUCKS EACH! So, on Aug. 15, 1992 we tasted one in it's seventh year and it received a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. I put the second bottle into my latest tasting, its 14th year.

The Wine

1985 Lake's Folly Cabernet, Hunter Vly., Australia
Bottle 47693,12.2% alcohol
Jean-Georges Selections, NYC, 10016
Rating—All the grape and wood components were still there and the nose was as charming as its creator. The rating in 1999, compared to the 1992 tasting, was 11% HIGHER...'way to go, Max!

In Closing

Dr. Lake gave us one of his books as we departed and here are its closing sentences, which dealt with the end of the harvest. "The year's work and worry, at fruition. If luck holds, the perfection here will be translated into great wine in the next four years. Years. It takes so long. A man plants a vineyard for posterity. As one of the Marx brothers once said, 'What's posterity done for me?' How everything done at a vineyard recalls the timelessness of Nature, and the short sip each man has of the chalice."

...Dr. Max Lake, Hunter Winemakers

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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