BBH Leader Pours Creative Talents into Wine-making

By Published on .

John Hegarty, chairman and worldwide creative director of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, has had a lot of success to toast recently. His agency won two of the biggest pitches of 2005-British Airways and Unilever's Omo-as well as landing Advertising Age's Global Agency Network of the Year award (AA, Jan. 9).

Now he can fill his glass with his own wine, Hegarty Chamans Cuvee 1.

Mr. Hegarty, 61, was looking for a break from city life. Instead of investing in the standard English country house, he searched further afield and found not only a whole new way of life but a raison d'etre.

"I'm an urban boy, born and raised in London," he said. "I've appreciated and loved good wine, but I only knew how to drink it-not how to make it."

He decided to buy a vineyard. The whole project took off much faster than he had anticipated-he made a quick trip to France with his New Zealander partner Philippa Crane, and they bought the third one they saw. "It was sensational, truly beautiful," he said.

Mr. Hegarty makes the four-and-a-half-hour journey from London to the Languedoc-Roussillon region every five weeks, spending Saturday to Monday immersing himself in the wine-making process. During the harvest, he spends a full week picking and sorting grapes. "It's back-breaking work," he allowed, "but you have to get out there and show [willingness]. I don't think you should be an absentee landlord."

This year he plans to take a three-month sabbatical from the agency so that he can concentrate on wine-making: "To make wine is dead easy but to make good wine is a real art form," he said. "I'm learning more and more about when to pick, how to blend and where to blend."

The vineyard, AOC Minervois, fills 63 acres in France near the Spanish border. The Languedoc-Roussillon region was badly affected by a blight in the 19th century and is only now beginning to recover. As a consequence, it appealed to Mr. Hegarty because, he claimed, "It is one of the most exciting wine regions in the world, where you can experiment and have the opportunity to play."

Hegarty Chamans uses the same black sheep logo employed by Bartle Bogle as a statement that he is not following the herd. "We do things differently ... It is a place to be more creative, where we can try out different flavors and styles."

Wine-making provides, he said, "a wonderful juxtaposition with what I do the rest of the time. Advertising is essentially ephemeral, whereas this is about patience and longevity. ... You can't just snap your fingers and get it. When you have God as one of your partners, you realize how f--- unreliable he is."

But there are parallels as well as contrasts: "In some ways it's like toothpaste. You can't expect results overnight-you have to be consistent and build the brand." Being John Hegarty, he has come up with an interesting way to promote the brand, which at 50,000 bottles is too small to warrant mainstream advertising. The wines generally go for about $20 at retail. Hegarty Chamans bottles each carry a poem on the label. Mr. Hegarty sent a poet to his vineyard for inspiration for the first vintage. Mr. Hegarty and his team are working on securing a presence in some New York restaurants, and delegates at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival will be able to quaff a glass of Hegarty Chamans.

The business is small, but eventually Mr. Hegarty expects to make a profit. "It will make money, but I didn't go into it to make a for- tune. It's a pleasurable thing to do."

Devoted to a worthy cause? Have a spectacular travel hideaway? Rabid about participatory sports? If you have a fascinating Off Hours activity, describe your passion in an email to Mike Ryan at mryan@crain.com.

John Hegarty

BBH chairman-worldwide creative director is a hands-on vineyard owner.

Wine writer Matthew Jukes’ description of Hegarty Chamans Cuvee 1 in "The Wine List 2006: The Top 250 Wines of the Year": "This beautiful wine made from Syrah, Carignan and Mourvedre ... is made to exacting standards and possessing, dense, dark, mineral- and garrigue-scented fruit, one hour in a decanter is all that is needed to turn it into a full-on, all singing and dancing cabaret star."

In this article:
Most Popular