When British singer Mick Hucknall, 49, decided to become a vintner in the late 1990s, he had a potentially perfect name for his first bottling at his fingertips—Simply Red, the name of the rock group he has fronted since 1985, best known for the chart-topping hits "If You Don't Know Me by Now" and "Holding Back the Years." Instead, he named it Il Cantante ("The Singer" in Italian). Il Cantante's winemaker is Salvo Foti, who has been making wine in Sicily since the early 1980s for numerous Sicilian wineries, including Gulfi and Benanti. The Il Cantante lineup includes three wines grown in the volcanic soils surrounding Sicily's Mt. Etna. Hucknall spoke with Wine Spectator about his introduction to fine wine, how he became a vintner and his experiences traveling the world as a wine-loving pop star.
Wine Spectator: How did you get interested in wine?
Mick Hucknall: I developed a fascination with Italy early on in my career. We achieved success there shortly after [we did in] the U.K. My wine epiphany was in 1989. I remember the wine very well: Roberto Voerzio La Serra [Barolo]. That was the first time I drank a red wine that had what I described as "dimensions." It wasn't just a beverage. It had more depth than I initially realized. I found myself really enjoying the subtleties.
WS: Many people would have been content to continue drinking fine wine. You started a vineyard.
MH: Yes. An old friend of mine who was originally Sicilian, his father retired and wanted to move back to Etna. He bought a small property there at the volcano that had a villa and a vineyard. The tragedy came when he retired on a Friday and died on a Monday of a heart attack. My friend took it badly. He moved into the villa. I visited him there and he vowed he would make the villa into a beautiful property. He said, "Why don't we make some wine?" but we didn't take it that seriously until the day he introduced me to [winemaker] Salvo Foti.
WS: I understand that when Foti met you, he didn't know who you were.
MH: That's the way it should be. In this project, he is the star. If you're going to make a wine of excellence, you have to focus on who is making the wine. It's all well and good being a pop star, but what does that have to do with wine? I've tried to avoid the celebrity angle.
WS: How many wines does Il Cantante produce now?
MH: Currently, we have Etna Rosso, Etna Bianco and a Nero d'Avola. In the future we may well produce a sparkling wine and a grappa.
WS: Do you collect wine?
MH: Yes. I've been collecting wine since 1995. It's mostly French, some Italian. I have quite a lot of Hungarian wine as well, which is a bit under the radar. Having just come back from a tour of Australia and New Zealand, I was immensely excited by the quality of wines there.
WS: With all your touring, you must get many chances to taste wines in the places where they're made.
MH: We actually performed in several vineyards on this most recent tour. We performed at Villa Maria in New Zealand and Peter Lehmann in South Australia. One of my favorite moments was having a tasting with winemaker Peter Gago at Penfolds. I was doing a show that day, so I couldn't actually swallow any wine. Your readers may think I'm insane, because he opened some extraordinary wines.