Gregory Williams has landed in Greytown, and it’s a good feeling. After years of global commuting, untold hours spent in airport lounges, and “ridiculous” 6am to 1am working days promoting luxury wines and champagnes across the globe, he’s excited to call Wairarapa home. Anne Taylor caught up with him over a glass of top notch rosé.
Gregory’s career has been full of exceptional moments. As Brand Ambassador for Cloudy Bay in the US, and Brand Development Manager for Moet Hennessy Australia, he has created events for the world’s top wine connoisseurs and sommeliers, sampled exquisite wines in chateaux cellars, and experienced various states of gastronomic heaven in the deluxe eateries of Sydney, LA and London.
But, he says, he fits right into Greytown: “There are a lot of people of my age or a bit older who have moved here. They’ve done their dash in the corporate world and decided to come over the hill. Greytown is like a lifeboat of rescued corporate heroes,” he laughs.
In fact, he thinks Greytown is ‘not much different’ from being in New York where life is lived in small villages. ”I talk to everyone just like I did in New York, Rusty when I buy bread, Dale at The White Swan, and Paul when I get my cheese at C’Est Cheese.”
And he’s finding country life a lot healthier too. Strolling among the manicured buxus of 45 Wood St, the new lodge accommodation he and wife Sarah have established, he tells me he does “everything but the pruning and the pool‚“ and his doctor is just as rapt with the health benefits as he is.
So while life has changed significantly, Gregory’s new project dovetails perfectly with his work to date: creating memorable experiences for people, coupled with lots of exploration of fine wine and food along the way.
Buying the large colonial villa was an impulse move for the couple, having been introduced to Wairarapa by friends from Wellington: “We saw the house on 30 December last year and bought it the next day!”
They then set about renovating and remodeling the villa as ‘whole-house’ accommodation, capturing a hitherto untapped corner of the market. With bookings until March 2018 including guests from the UK, they’re clearly meeting a niche market.
‘45 Wood St’ has a fully equipped kitchen, ample storage, drawing room, pool and Italian courtyard, so guests can literally move in and have the house to themselves for their stay. It has so far hosted weddings, and is also perfect for small conferences, creative days and work sessions.
Gregory is fast developing a passion for Wairarapa food, wine and produce, and he’s initiating another venture called ‘Wine Detective’, which will see him presenting Wairarapa’s bounty in the capital, then attracting clients over the hill for hands-on experiences.
His own food and wine journey started when he moved from Auckland to Wellington as an 18-year-old oboe student. He quickly became part of the ‘student army’ that powers the capital’s hospitality industry, and realized this held more potential than being a professional musician. The 90s were an exciting time to be in Wellington, he says, with “visionary people who were not afraid to take risks” carving out what has become Wellington’s distinctively eclectic dining scene.
Gaining the nickname ‘Manuel’, Greg worked at Mt Cook Café, where owners Jeff Kennedy and Lois Daish became mentors. With the unstoppable confidence of youth, he became a partner in Brooklyn Bar and Grill. By that time, Gregory had become fascinated by wine, and he worked for Montana from 1994 to 1997, which gave him an insight into the corporate world. From 1997 to 2013, he was based in Sydney and Melbourne working for sparkling wine specialist Domaine Chandon, followed by Moet Hennessy Australia, as brand development manager.
His mission was developing programmes and events to engage consumers, and convey the brand values. It was a natural progression to Brand Ambassador in the US for the flagship New Zealand wine Cloudy Bay.
He says a firm hand shake, open attitude and the ‘funny’ NZ accent was all the entrée he needed to the US wine circuit. “The essence of the job was to tell them the story of Cloudy Bay, one of the pioneering Marlborough vineyards. They were already amazed that I’d come all the way from New Zealand, and they also had great respect for the brand.”
Among his standout experiences have been presenting guests with lobster and foie gras burgers at Astral Tower, Sydney, and the stunned silence when he urged them to eat with their hands. Or ‘nailing’ a seven-hour Pinot Noir & Pork Lunch organised for a food and wine festival in Charleston, South Carolina: the smokehouse chef was a 6 ft 7 former submariner.
Or the ‘life-changing’ experience of sampling five vintages of $1000 per bottle Chateau Yquem, where grapes are individually handpicked and processed exclusively by women.
For now, a glass of rosé by the pool at Wood St comes pretty close to being perfect. And the prospect of many more stories ‘ this time of and from the Wairarapa, in the future.