Sandy Godfrey was a boutique winemaker long before he was a lawyer. He tells that crushing grapes with his kids still offers a welcome escape from the office.
Ask Sandy Godfrey to choose his favourite wine and he’ll laugh and say it’s almost like asking him to choose his favourite child. The Sydney based father-of-three, who works full-time as a lawyer, has been producing handcrafted drops under the label Godfrey Wines since 2008.
He likes them all. It depends on the style, he says over the phone. However, as his three-year-old daughter interjects and asks him to help dress her Barbie, he admits one vintage does stand out above the rest.
“The 2010, I think, was my favourite,” he says.
“We made our third vintage as an operating winery and I released our first top-end wines, all named after my children, nieces and nephews. The 2010 Edward Shiraz, which was named after my son – he was born that year – won a silver medal at the Barossa Wine Show.
“The fruit, 80 per cent of it came from Greenock, in the Barossa, and 20 per cent of it came from Vine Vale, near Seppeltsfield. All of it went into brand new French oak barrels – it was my son’s first wine, and I wanted to make it special. It was delicious, a classic Barossa Shiraz. Greenock wines can be quite big and rich, which is obviously what the Barossa is famous for, whereas Vine Vale has sandy soil so it softens that intensity. It ended up being a lovely, balanced wine.”
Godfrey is currently producing batches of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (with fruit from Orange, NSW) and Shiraz (with fruit from the Barossa Valley, SA), which he says are “for people interested in unique, handcrafted wines”. But there are big things on the horizon.
At the moment, it’s largely a one-man operation, with almost all of the wine sold online. But the Godfrey family is currently in the process of building a new winery at Hartley, on the western side of the Blue Mountains, where they hope to eventually open a cellar door. On top of that, his first Rose will be ready for bottling in February.
Godfrey has had a big year professionally, too. In October 2019, he joined Lawyers on Demand and took a secondment in the banking sector, where he is working in litigation. The new role follows more than three-and-a-half years as an associate at Minter Ellison.
He came to the law as a mature-age student after completing degrees in history at the University of Sydney, oenology (the science of wine and winemaking) at the University of Adelaide, and business at the University of South Australia.
“I always wanted to do law,” he says, explaining that his lengthy academic resume started when he didn’t get the HSC score required to study his dream Arts/Law course straight out of high school.
“I worked in all kinds of different restaurants while I was doing my arts degree and I got really interested in wine, so I trained as a sommelier. When I graduated, I decided I wanted to get into winemaking, so I moved to Adelaide. But then I realised I didn’t know anything about business…”
He worked at vineyards in South Australia and in Bordeaux, France, before eventually making his way back to Sydney to study law at the University of New South Wales.
“The good thing is, once you’ve got three other degrees, you can do pretty much whatever you like,” he laughs. From the first day, lecture one, I knew I was going to enjoy it. I just enjoy studying, I guess. Before I knew it, I was doing a clerkship at Minter Ellison. It was a great place to work.”
The winemaker, who was admitted in 2016, says the years he spent working in vineyards actually prepared him for the challenges of working in a top-tier firm while raising a young family.
“During the the harvest – we’d do 18- 20-hour days, no problems, and you’re on your feet. [In the office] a long day is a long day, but it’s nothing on the winery,” he says.
“A lot of young lawyers make the mistake of thinking there is value in just sitting at your desk. By then I had two kids, and I wasn’t interested in being there unless there were things to do. I’d work hard and finish everything I needed to get done and go. I think the partners understood. I’d often log in after I’d put the kids to bed – Minters was really good about that, it was really flexible. I certainly put in my long hours, but I actually found it quite manageable.”
The fun of sharing his passion with his family has also helped him find balance.
“I find that having the winery is a nice break. It’s nice to take the kids up there. They’re learning about things. They help me alot with things like crushing,” he says.
“It’s a wonderful industry. I don’t ever want to give it up. It’s so different to law, it’s nice to be able to hang up the suit on a Friday and go and play with some barrels.”