A Barrel of Laughs with Comedian and Wine Expert Merrick Watts

Comedian and wine lover Merrick Watts has found his happy place – it’s in a vineyard making others laugh. He’s back with Comedy in the Vines taking place in Nagambie this November – bringing a stellar line-up of international and local names including the UK’s Russell Kane, Celia Pacquola, Lizzy Hoo, Dave Hughes, Tommy Little and Bang On’s Zan Rowe and Myfanwy Warhurst to name a few.

Watts fell in love with wine in 1999, when he and his comedy partner Tim ‘Rosso’ Ross were in Adelaide for a Fringe Festival appearance. They found themselves in the Barossa and the rest is a match made in a wine glass.

Now Watts is a qualified wine expert – with a level three WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) award under his belt, and a Barossa Master qualification to show off his skillset.

He launched Grapes of Mirth in 2018- a travelling comedy series held in wineries  just before the pandemic took hold.  Now, he’s back mightier than ever with a line-up that’s sure to steal your hearts. And what’s not to love about comedy and wine set among the picturesque vineyards of Nagambie.

Comedy in the Vines is where you come to see some comedy, learn about wines and kick back with your besties for a fabulous weekend.  Some of the finest from the region taking part in the tastings include Hide & Seek, Mitchelton, Fowles, Tahbilk and Box Grove – complemented with an assortment of delicious local gourmet food offerings.

“I remember arriving in the Barossa for the first time 24 years ago and discovering Rockford Basket Press,” says Merrick Watts.

“It was a wow moment of whatever that is, I need it in my face,” he says.

“That day I became a member of the wine club and still am. I have enjoyed a wonderful relationship with the cellar door and that’s exactly what I love about wine – you can form relationships and friendships and links with people which can transcend decades,” says Watts.

Then came a visit to Penny’s Hill Wines in McLaren Vale – that’s when the penny [pardon the pun] dropped.

“I turned to Parky [Tony Parkinson, the then owner] and asked what happens to this marquee after the industry event on Friday,” he said. “I’d like to put on a comedy gig.”

And the rest is a laugh a minute with a pour that keeps you asking for more.

Watts’ first Grapes of Mirth series took place at Steve Pannell’s SCP Winery and kicked off a series that’s still in hot demand today.

Watts describes his passion for wine and comedy as a chance to bring the two worlds together – bridging the conversation with those in the know to those who want to know more.

“I am a conduit between the two worlds of comedy and wine,” says Watts.

“I’d like to think I am the bridge between the hard knowledge of wine and speaking to Masters of Wine and bring that to the people.”

As for choosing the region of Nagambie, Watts wanted to lift the spirits of those impacted by the floods which wiped out many wineries in 2022.

“A strong childhood memory is of dad drinking his favourite wine from Tahbilk. I was always curious about Nagambie and where it was. I grew up in Melbourne, and while it wasn’t far away, I wanted to see it for myself. I was blown away when I did visit,” he adds.

“This is our way of bringing a bit of joy to the region. And, it has fast become a way for the comedy industry to get together and have some fun. It’s not often we can do that in such a beautiful setting.”

A DRINK THAT DESCRIBES YOU

I’d be a prosecco. I am bubbly, accessible and affordable. Most people know me, but not everyone likes me.

BEST NEWCOMER IN WINE

Riley Harrison from South Australia. He is doing great wines under his own label Harrison Wines. He’s a terrific bloke and seeing his approach to how he tastes wine is simply magic.

A WINE YOU’D PURCHASE AGAIN

Oxidised Chardonnay is my go-to. Bloom by Brash Higgins.

 A REGION YOU LOVE

I love McLaren Vale. It’s fantastic because it’s close to the ocean and stunning. Coriole Vineyards is a favourite. SC Pannell is another and The d’Arenberg Cellar Door. A place I love to visit is Helm Wines in Murrumbateman. It’s in a tiny old school house, and the cellar door is where you find winemaker Ken Helm. He is an amazing character, has great wines, not a lot of varietals, so you get to spend a lot of time talking about his Cabernet and Riesling. He is super passionate.

DRINK OF CHOICE

I do like beer and spirits but it’s wine. I don’t drink as much as people might think.

During the week I treat myself like a Rolls Royce and on the weekend, I treat myself like a rental car.

I have gone more into wine whites and roses. I love Riesling – aged and fresh. I love Chardonnay because of the stylistic variants you can find from oxidised to clean Chablis. Bloom by Brash Higgins for Chardonnay. Penny Helm’s Riesling is stunning.

BEST INTERSTATE BARS:

Fino Vino in Adelaide, and I’ll order a dirty martini or I will have a spritz or old-fashioned and in Sydney I’m at the Continental in Newtown.

HANGOVER CURE

Vietnamese food, eat lots of it.  Also drink their lemon soda with lemon juice and sugar. If they sugar cane juice have that instead.

WHY SYDNEY

I used to live in the inner west of Sydney for 20 years and now am in Maroubra. I call it Marrickville by the sea. What I love is the proximity to the National Park. It’s very multicultural. Bar Milano is where we go. It’s a wonderful Italian bistro and bar that has changed this place. Great food and wine and amazing service.

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