High-pitched wine

Top Gear’s James May has a pas­sion and it isn’t cars, writes Colin Vick­ery

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ASK James May who he’d rather work with — Top Gear’s Jeremy Clark­son and Richard Ham­mond or Oz and James’s Big Wine Ad­ven­tures’ Oz Clarke — and it’s clear Clarke wins by a large glass of red.

May re­placed Ja­son Dawe on the UK car se­ries in 2003 and re­cently signed a multi-mil­lion pound con­tract with the BBC to con­tinue for an­other three years.

Dur­ing the past cou­ple of years he has branched out into ar­eas other than motoring with James May’s 20th Cen­tury, James May’s Big Ideas, James May’s Top Toys, My Sis­ter’s Top Toys and Wine Ad­ven­tures.

Top Gear re­mains his pri­or­ity, but it’s clear he en­joys the other projects, par­tic­u­larly Wine Ad­ven­tures, which have been set in the wine re­gions of France and Cal­i­for­nia.

‘‘ Top Gear has be­come a very com­pli­cated ma­chine,’’ May says.

‘‘The ideas have be­come com­pli­cated, there are three pre­sen­ters, there’s a lot of staff, you have to get the cars right and so on.

‘‘It’s quite com­pet­i­tive, too, with the races. We all have our own sub­ject area, but we’re just un­pleas­ant to each other be­cause we re­ally don’t like each other.

‘‘We’re just about to start work­ing on the new se­ries (of Top Gear). At this point we’ve got ab­so­lutely no idea what we’re go­ing to put in it but by the end of next month we’ll have thought of some­thing.’’

May films Wine Ad­ven­tures each Au­gust with Clarke, a renowned UK food and wine critic.

Each se­ries fea­tures a road trip through a wine re­gion with Clarke try­ing to con­vince beer-guz­zling May that wine is a sub­ject worth in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

The pair bicker just as much as the Top Gear team, but May in­sists there are dif­fer­ences.

‘‘ Wine Ad­ven­tures is based on a very sim­ple premise — we set off, drink some wine and ar­gue about it,’’ he says.

‘‘It’s more re­laxed (than Top Gear) and there’s only a small crew, but it’s also gru­elling be­cause the days are long, we only have two days off the en­tire month, there’s a lot of trav­el­ling in­volved and we’re al­ways hung-over.

‘‘With Oz, there’s this re­la­tion­ship where he’s the teacher and the mas­ter and I’m the stu­dent.’’

ALL that time in the com­pany of Clarke has changed May’s at­ti­tude to­wards wine and he says that he now has a size­able col­lec­tion at home.

‘‘He’s turned me into a ponce,’’ he says with a laugh.

‘‘I have quite a large wine rack full of in­ter­est­ing things. Oz’s mates in the wine busi­ness have also started send­ing me lists and I think ‘I’ll try a case of that’.’’

May has just fin­ished a third se­ries of Wine Ad­ven­tures which cov­ers Bri­tain and takes in beer and spir­its. He and Clarke are toss­ing around ideas for a fourth se­ries, with Aus­tralia a pos­si­ble des­ti­na­tion.

‘‘Aussie and Kiwi wine is ex­tremely pop­u­lar in Bri­tain and then we’ve also thought about do­ing the Mid­dle East and do­ing the his­tory of dis­till­ing,’’ he says.

‘‘We’ve also thought of do­ing some­thing on blokes’ food. Then we’ve also thought of not both­er­ing and just go­ing to the pub.’’

May in­sists there has never been any plan to his ca­reer, which takes in a weekly col­umn for the UK’s Daily Tele­graph, ar­ti­cles for Top Gear mag­a­zine, and books in­clud­ing May on Motoring as well as tie-ins for Wine Ad­ven­tures and 20th Cen­tury.

‘‘With 20th Cen­tury, the BBC sci­ence depart­ment said ‘we want to do some­thing on the 20th cen­tury and you’re quite into a lot of the stuff we’d be talk­ing about — trans­port, aero­planes, space and so on’,’’ May says.

‘‘ Big Ideas started with me think­ing we should do an en­ergy pro­gram. They (the BBC) liked the idea but wanted to do a se­ries of three shows so we came up with two other top­ics. It all sort of hap­pens in a pub, re­ally.’’

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