LONG before Cadel Evans won the Tour de France a wild colonial boy from Tasmania was blazing the trail in world cycling for generations of Australians. But today the pace is slightly different for Micheal Wilson who has morphed from cycling superstar into a multi-lingual vigneron at downtown Launceston.
There are not many ways to better express your passion for wine than in Italian.
All that arm waving with Mediterranean drama, volumes of voluble excitement gushing forth.
But for quite some time that sense of theatre was wasted on Devonport’s Micheal Wilson.
He neither spoke Italian nor the lingua franca of professional cycling’s peloton.
Because the Tasmanian; armed only with English and ambition, was in Europe to ride, not rabble rouse at the local wineries and bars.
And ride he did, setting the standard for the many Australians who were to follow him onto the world stage of cycling’s biggest events.
The laconic Tasmanian concedes today he can still “speak a little bit of Italian, and get by in French”.
When Grapegrower & Winemaker tracked Wilson down on the outskirts of Launceston the cycling superstar was hard to identify.
Because he wasn’t behind the counter handing out samples to a very enthusiastic hen’s party which had just arrived at his (almost) new cellar door and cafe.
No, Wilson was out in the backyard.
With an axe and a lot of sweat on his brow after hacking his way through a pile of Tassie timber to keeps the wood-fired pizza oven going for the long weekend.
Not what you expect from a man who has run his vineyard Velo since 1991, and not on one of the busiest weekends of the year.
But he seemed more than happy to down the axe and flop onto a bit of dusty concrete to have a chat about the Micheal Wilson story rather than head back into the fray.
This Olympian, and stage winner in both the Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy) and La Vuelta (Tour of Spain), was a bona fide rock star on two wheels.
But now he has happily sunk back into the Launceston community, not too far from his birthplace of Devonport where his grandfather, father and eventually son also raced.
“I didn’t know that much about wine before I went to Europe and really started to get a taste for it there,” Wilson admitted.
These days, to a new generation, Wilson is probably better known for his winery Velo, on the outskirts of Tasmania’s northern hub.
There are a couple of token images of the glory days adorning the cellar door walls but even when Wilson ventured inside none of his visitors seemed to make the connection.
Whichever way you look at it, this velocipeding vigneron hardly comes across as the wild colonial boy who once grabbed the jersey of five-time Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault and almost pulled him off his bike.
Just because he got in Wilson’s way.
It was a move which stunned the rest of riding’s fraternity but after that day’s racing Hinault gave the brash young Australian a private wink – and a lot of respect.
Today Wilson is more interested in getting the respect of people drinking his wines, which include Sparkling, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and a cool-climate Shiraz.
“We have been here since 2001 after I did some viticulture work at St Matthias near Hobart and winemaking at Moorilla,” Wilson says.
“I came back to Tasmania in 1991 after I retired from racing and we (with wife Mary) had a restaurant and B&B, where I planted half a dozen rows of vines and began playing around a bit,” he says.
Full story in June’s Grapegrower & Winemaker.