Merrick Watts is a wine guy. And a serious one. The comedian, known for roles on TV shows like The Hollowmen and his Picture Discuss podcast, also holds a WSET 3 in wines – a professional qualification awarded by the Wine and Spirit Education Trust.
Watts is one of the founders of events company Grapes of Mirth, which is holding a two-day festival celebrating wine and comedy called Comedy in The Vines in November at Hide and Seek winery in Nagambie (about 90 minutes from Melbourne).
The line-up includes Aussie stars Celia Pacquola, Tom Ballard, Lizzy Hoo and Rhys Nicholson as well as international performers including UK comedians Russell Kane and Leigh Francis, and American comic Gareth Reynolds.
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There’ll also be live podcast recordings, cooking demonstrations, wine masterclasses and, of course, wine tastings with local producers including Mitchelton Estate and Tahbilk. We chat with Watts ahead of the festival to learn more.
Tell us about Comedy in the Vines.
It’s a bring a hat, bring a rug, bring some friends kinda vibe! There’s music, food, wine, friends, laughs. It’s a pretty special weekend and people can come for two days, but there are also day passes for either the Saturday or the Sunday.
Who are some of the producers you’re excited about?
Tahbilk is well over a century old, and Hide and Seek are emerging but we also have the iconic Mitchelton Winery and Fowles, Wines by Sam and Box Grove. What I am most excited by is the enormous variety and style of wines we will be showcasing, from marsanne to shiraz and heaps of delicious rose and bubbles galore!
When did your interest in wine start?
I have always liked wine, coz it’s yum but [also because] it’s constantly changing and evolving – I love that!
When I decided to start the events company Grapes of Mirth [a wine and comedy events company, where Watts’s title is “Head Clown”] I wanted to assure the public and the wine industry that I was genuinely invested, so I started accumulating wine qualifications. I currently hold a WSET 3 in wine, am a Barossa Master [a qualification awarded by Barossa Wine School] and have qualifications to judge wine at shows, which I do at least once a year.
What are some of your favourite food and wine pairings?
I love the Oyster and Riesling shot. Get a shot glass, bung an oyster in there and fill to the brim with very cold riesling. Then apply a thin slither round of de-seeded red chilli on top and throw the whole thing in your mouth. Chew slowly and prepare for your mind to explode. The three different elements are not competitive but incredibly complementary on the palate. It’s an awesome hit and a great party starter.
How does comedy affect your approach to wine?
Like comedy, my approach to wine is about accessibility and enjoyment. Although when I am doing either comedy or wine work I take the material – just not myself! – very seriously.
I perhaps see and articulate things in wine in a different, more bogan way. I once described a semillon as being “a jet ski of acid and flavour”. Did I mention I am a bogan from the same town as [motor racing driver] Peter Brock?
And how does wine affect your approach to comedy?
I don’t drink before I perform! After a glass or two of chardonnay, I get a bit “auntie Susan at the barbecue” – friendly, rosy cheeked and affable, but [there’s] half a chance [I’ll] fall into a pool!
Comedy in the Vines is on November 11 & 12. Tickets and more info can be found here.