McWilliam’s winemaking coup


McWilliam’s Wines (tastings) has landed a coup, employing Jim Chatto as chief winemaker. Chatto is one of Australia’s best winemakers and finest palates.

He will be based at the family-owned company’s Hunter Valley winery, Mount Pleasant (tastings). He becomes only the fourth chief winemaker at Mount Pleasant since Maurice O’Shea established the winery in 1921.

The others have been Brian Walsh and Phil Ryan, who retired last year after about 30 years’ service. While Hunter-based, Chatto will have overall responsibility for all McWilliam’s winemaking and style direction. Chatto acted as a consultant to McWilliam’s for the 2013 vintage.

This is big news for both parties. Chatto’s talents have already been recognized: he was voted Hunter Valley winemaker of the year in 2009 and nominated for the Gourmet Traveller Wine magazine winemaker of the year award in 2010. 

Now his talents will have a much larger stage. He previously headed winemaking at First Creek (tastings) and then Pepper Tree (tastings) in the Hunter, has his own small vineyard in Tasmania and consults to several small wineries.

It’s great for McWilliam’s, which has been attempting to stabilise the top end of its winemaking hierarchy for a decade. Production director Jim Brayne has headed the winemaking team since 1986 after joining Macs in 1973.

Martin Cooper was the first man anointed, to allow Brayne to move from chief winemaker to production director, but he left to form Cooper Coffman in Canberra which fell apart soon after.

Luring Corey Ryan back from New Zealand where he’d headed Villa Maria’s (tastings) team was a coup; he stayed four years and has now gone to South Australia.

Chatto is at least as big a coup as Ryan, and Brayne says he’s thrilled to have a person of such calibre heading his team. Brayne says he’s excited about the future, as the venerable Mount Pleasant brand will no longer be used to flog down-market Coonawarra wines and will be totally Hunter focused in future.

Some special releases are in the pipeline. The company is also investing a lot of money in the Hunter including an upgrade for the cellar door.

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