Hastwell & Lightfoot, New Beginnings

A chapter closes for Martin, but a new one opens for Kishan

Hastwell & Lightfoot (H&L), in South Australia’s McLaren Vale, is a collaboration of two families, Mark & Wendy Hastwell and Martin & Jill Lightfoot, who purchased their vineyards in the 1980s. Attracted to the natural beauty of the region and a laid back lifestyle, the families’ dream was to plant vines, kick back and become “Gentlemen Farmers”.

As Hastwell & Lightfoot matures as a winery, having energy to maintain growth and vigour for the next generation is just as important as the quality of the wine that is produced. Mark and Wendy Hastwell’s son James is the Winemaker and Martin Lightfoot’s nephew Richard McGeachy is Vineyard Manager and provides the bedrock for another 30 years of Hastwell & Lightfoot estate wines. After all these years, Martin, who is fast approaching 77 and retirement, has decided to step back and to welcome a new generation: Kishan Sidhu, Mark and Wendy’s nephew, who is joining the winery and taking on the roles and responsibilities of General Manager. His arrival will be critical in steering the H&L families’ brand toward the next generation.


Kishan Sidhu and Martin Lightfoot

Read the interview with Kishan Sidhu below.

« For us, the Opimian relationships mean loyalty to supporters and a continuation of traditions. Passion for connecting our wines to the Canadian wine-loving community. »

Interview with Martin Lightfoot

1. How did the relationship with Opimian get started?

How it started was a joy of coincidence. In 2005 Mark and Wendy Hastwell were travelling on the Ghan, this was a new train crossing Australia north to south [Darwin to Adelaide]. Also travelling on the 3000 km trip was Canadian train buff John McBean and his wife. They got talking and Mark said he was not impressed with the quality of the wines on the train and that lead onto talking about our vineyard. John then advised that he was a director of Opimian and we should look at selling through the Society. First step was to contact Anna Tarzia Zappia, and through her Kenneth Christie, the Opimian Master of Wine based in Bristol. I was already planning a trip to the UK in early 2006 so I included some samples under my arm and hoped to be able to meet Kenneth. We met at his golf club, he was impressed with the wines and opened the door to Opimian. So it is thanks to John McBean.

Martin Lightfoot and Mark Hastwell

2. What does your relationship with Opimian mean to you?

Opimian was our first piece of business in North America and it gave us the unique opportunity to be selling our wines in every province, and even better than that – selling directly to consumers, meaning a wine is not sitting on a shelf hoping for a buyer. So it was a very safe entry to the market.

Very quickly the experience became far richer, because we weren’t just doing business with an entity, we were doing business with real people who became friends.

3. What are your best memories with Opimian?

I’ll restrict myself to three.

Over the years we have had many Opimian members come and spend some time with us. Sometimes just a couple, sometimes a group. We’ve walked the vineyard together, sucked on different varieties and then tasted the wines they make, sat up on the hill having long and enjoyable lunches together and got to know what a great bunch Canadians are.

When Kenneth Christie turned 75 and decided to retire, Jill and I were invited to come to Montreal to take part in the Christie farewell four-day Spectacular. There were folk from around the world plus the Opimian directors, staff and the Area Representatives. It was both a lot of fun and a special opportunity to meet so many Opimian connections. Jill and I felt very honoured.

In 2014, Opimian invited Jill and I to join a group of 70 [Area Representatives and spouses] on a one-week experience of Rioja. Every day was a bus trip to a different part of the region linked in with memorable tastings and lunches. Jane Masters MW was the master of the event and she invited 12 or 14 suppliers to be part of it. We, of course, had to do a bit of singing for our supper with two suppliers an evening telling their story and conducting a tasting. Once again, great to be part of a gathering of Canadians.

4. How did you see the evolution of wine during your time at Hastwell & Lightfoot?

I think for Australia, the most exciting evolution is the one that is in progress right now. After 160 years of growing and making virtually nothing else but French varieties, with the year 2000 we started to get excited about Italian and Spanish varieties. Now the industry has a full head of steam with great new [to Australia] varieties being grown and turned into some fascinating wines. This makes the producers’ life more interesting and opens the eyes of wine-interested consumers to a whole new world.

5. What are you looking forward to during retirement?

I guess this sounds boring, I love being in the vineyard and finally, I can get back in there at my leisure doing stuff without time constraints. And I like the extra time in the garden. Plus of course, there are trips to be done in Australia and overseas. One in particular I have in mind is a boat trip from Montreal down through the Canal system to New York.

6. What are your hopes for the company?

That it becomes increasingly recognized by wine lovers in Australia and around the world for the quality and diversity of wines it produces. And in the course of this, I hope it makes lots of money for Mark, Kishan and their families.

When Opimian was created 46 years ago, it was the primary force for bringing interesting, quality wines to Canada and today, Opimian continues to offer wines that can be found nowhere else.

– Martin Lightfoot, co-founder of Hastwell & Lightfoot

Interview with Kishan Sidhu

Dare to be different!

1. Can you tell us a little bit about you? What is your background?

Well I am Mark and Wendy Hastwell’s nephew and cousin to James Hastwell (our Winemaker). I come from a design, development, marketing, and business background. I studied as a Town Planner and worked in government organisations for about 18 years and lead high performing teams. I moved into the private development sector in 2008 and I was able to have the joy of working on iconic South Australian commercial and community buildings. I have been lucky enough to work in the heritage building space in Adelaide and also in Malaysia where my father was born. In the late 90’s, I realised that I was passionate about South Australian products, particularly about food, wine and our State.

With Mark and Wendy establishing the winery in the late 1980’s, it has allowed me to explore and develop a palate for South Australian wines, which initially helped me in my hospitality days while I was going to university. There is an old saying that it’s pretty hard to take the allure and charm of the hospitality industry out of a person. So, it was only a matter of time that I would return to the sector in some format.

Having family in the wine industry also allowed me to dip my toes into the wine industry from time to time. I can still remember Mark, Wendy, Martin and Jill Lightfoot getting our family involved by digging holes for the vineyard back in the early days and through to the initial days of food and wine festivals in McLaren Vale. I also worked with James during his initial vintages after he completed his journey to becoming a winemaker. This all gave me an insight that many people don’t get.

2. When did you realize that producing wine was your passion?

Why wine? Well to me wine is something that is both artistic and scientific. Town Planning and Design are very much in a similar vein in that it is artistic at times but also analytical at other times. As I have aged and matured (hopefully like a fine wine), I realized the importance that food and in turn wine was to life, the community, and also to the State of South Australia.

I love the opportunity to try new wine varieties from all different regions along with exposure to the variations in flavours and aromas that they provide.  After all, a wine bottle is 750 ml of fun.

Lastly, having the opportunity to join the family in the winery while bringing in new ideas, energy and vigor is something that gets me excited. I believe that having skills from a different industry will complement James, who for some time has been quietly going about his business of crafting some great wines. Let’s just say that I am not as quiet as James as I am prepared to shout out about how good South Australian wines and the McLaren Vale region are.

3. Which of your current wines are you the most excited about?

I have really fallen in love with Cabernet Franc, Barbera , Fiano and rosé.

“Franc” to me is just so aromatic, but then shows the environment and terra forma that it grows in, all in the 750ml bottle. In a blind tasting I undertook of our wines around 2-3 years ago I couldn’t get past the aroma of this wine and even today when I crack a bottle open, I smile.

The “People’s Wine” Barbera is so delightful to drink, and I love the savoury tones that is provides. It’s a delicate wine that caresses the taste buds in my mouth and then makes me want to pour another glass as soon as I have finished the first one. I just wish the kangaroos didn’t enjoy the fruit so much, so we had more of this wine to share with the world.

Fiano has changed white wines for me. Last year I got really, really, excited about this wine variety that I can’t get my hands on enough of them. With our 2018 vintage (our first) being so well recognized in the Australian markets I am just not that sure I want to share this wine with the world (chuckle). We have just finished bottling our 2019 vintage and I can’t wait to get this out into the market. I love the complexity, the ability to age, along with the mouth feel it has. Hopefully, we will be able to share the 2020 vintage with Opimian.

Rosé. Wow, how complex is rosé. I had no idea until I started to go down the rabbit hole with this wine. I make no assumptions now and delight in talking to people about how we make ours and love asking other winemakers about their rosé as well. I love the tarty strawberry skin we get from ours while the velvet like finish from the addition of Garnacha just makes it a delight to drink.

4. If you were not a winemaker, what would you do?

Really good question. I love sport, I love community and I love hosting friends and family who love to eat, drink and listen to music. Maybe a sports bar where beer plays second fiddle to wine or someone who can guide wineries through a cellar door activation design process. As long as there is wine involved, I am up for the challenge.

5. What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love that moment when I am pouring a glass of wine for someone that hasn’t experienced them, having described to them what my senses or my palate are experiencing and seeing their eyes widen, their face light up. I love witnessing the moment when they are also experiencing the same sensations.

6. Which winemaking traditions, if any, are most important to you?

I love the fact that we grow our own grapes, we make our wine and we sell our wine. It’s truly “estate grown”. So many wineries today do not undertake some of these core steps of the wine journey. I also love the joy of open fermentation and the colour, aroma that you experience during a vintage, combined with small batch, making it something that not many people in the industry do get the chance to share nowadays. I am sure Mark and Martin didn’t realize that they are the original hipster wine makers, making small batches of wine from their own fruit. To me, it is important that we maintain the scale of our wine making and allow the next generation, James, Richard and I to enjoy, while hoping that maybe a third generation will develop a passion for these same values.

7. Hastwell and Lightfoot stays in the family. Is there anything that you would like to do differently? What is your vision for the future?

Change for the sake of it isn’t something that I am interested in. However, the evolution of the brand, the story and our varieties are. For me, I want our brand to be a little more recognized than it currently is, but at the same time, I want to build and develop the following that we currently have from consumers that have been enjoying our wine for 30 years.

8. Is there anything that you would like to share with members?

I love that the members of Opimian have been enjoying our wine for some time and I really look forward to coming to Canada at some point with my family so that they can also see how you all love our wines.

It’s an honour to take on the legacy that Martin and Jill Lightfoot have built for years while at the same time I am really looking forward to working with Mark, Wendy and James on ensuring that the H&L brand and story continue into the future.