Passing Clouds by Graeme Leith »

A winemaker's journey and a real peek into vineyard life

By Laura McKinnon
Subscribe to
Passing Clouds - A winemakers journey by Graeme Leith

Passing Clouds - A winemakers journey by Graeme Leith

Graeme Leith
Cameron and Graeme Leith, Passing Clouds, Victoria

Graeme Leith is half of the founding partnership and first winemaker of Passing Clouds Winery, located near Daylesford, Victoria. Passing Clouds has grown from humble beginnings in 1973 to an award-winning winery, now run by the next generation of the Leith family.

I always approach the memoirs of winemakers with trepidation, as books which place too much focus on vineyard and winemaking operations often leave you wanting to know more about the author and less about the technical stuff. Graeme Leith’s memoir is not one of these, but instead is full of stories that influenced his life and therefore his wines.

The book opens with tales of his childhood, and as you read of his trips with the Scouts and cooking for his mother, you can’t help imagine him sitting in a chair recounting the stories as a grandfather might to grandchildren. These are short and set out in mini chapters averaging two pages, clearly distinguishable by chapter headings.

Quite quickly he moves on to tales of his first trip overseas: stories of a young man struggling to make ends meet but enjoying life footloose and fancy free. And just as quickly as you are transported to the other side of the world, you are back in Melbourne listening to the story of his first marriage. This wasn’t to last long but Graeme doesn’t dwell on the breakup, instead choosing to describe the many happy moments and the joy of children. These memories make the recollections in later chapters of his daughter’s death even more heartbreaking.

I have heard the Passing Clouds story described as a roller-coaster journey and I would not disagree. From naked performances at the La Mama theatre and the purchase of the Kingower property, you travel along on a wonderful path that begins to impart some of the experiences of vineyard life.

The chapters concerning the tragic death of his daughter and the effect this had on him lead into an almost jovial description of a vintage in Burgundy. The time away from Australia was part of his grieving process, but also provided him with skills and inspiration that helped in the early days of Passing Clouds. He then describes the continuing improvements in the property, winemaking and the changes in his daily life.

As if to provide you with an intermission, the centre pages of Passing Clouds are filled with family photos just like you might find in your own family album. There is nothing stage-managed about them; instead they truthfully add a visual to the prose of the previous chapters.

We are given a unique insight into the mystique of vintage with two vintage diaries, the first from Graeme with help from Suzie MacDonald and the second from his son Cameron who has taken over the winemaking at Passing Clouds. These daily notes give us a true understanding of vintage, the early mornings, the late nights and the rewards.

Passing Clouds finishes with what many regard as the most important part of the winemaking story: the winery dog(s). The final pages are dedicated to the stories of the fortunate dogs that have called Passing Clouds home over the years.

Passing Clouds is a delightful read full of stories you can relate to. If you are interested to know the story behind the wine – or have ever considered venturing into a life as a viticulturist or winemaker – this book will give you the insight you don’t get from polished media campaigns.

Passing Clouds by Graeme Leith is published by Allen and Unwin (Sydney, 2014; sc, 314 pp) and retails in Australia for A$32.99

PS from the Editor: a dear friend of mine spent many vintages as a (willing) volunteer picker at Passing Clouds, and her hilarious tales of Graeme and his antics would make anyone want to go there! If you can't, read this book instead.


  • Macedon Ranges (Wine) (VIC)
  • Macedon Ranges & Spa Country (VIC)

Our Recommendations

To see our recommendations, ratings and reviews you must be a logged-in subscriber.

To subscribe please enter your email address in the "Subscribe Now - it's Free" box on the right and click the "Join" button, or fill in this form >

May 25th, 2015
Subscribe today - it's free
Subscribe Button

Subscribe now - for news and reviews, our newsletter (optional), to join our forums, and more.

Enter your email address and click the Subscribe button. We respect your privacy.

Log in

Enter your username...

Enter your password...

Log In Button

Forgotten your password?


Kerry's corner - your free benefits
Premium listing