Peter Lehmann dies at 82

The wine industry has lost one of its legends. Barossa Valley winemaker and wine industry hero Peter Lehmann died at the age of 82, this morning (Friday June 28). 

Lehmann was arguably the most loved and treasured wine identity in the Barossa, the region in which he lived his entire life and which he championed long before regionality in wine was fashionable. A fifth generation Barossan and the son of a highly-respected local Lutheran pastor, Lehmann was a generous, big-hearted, hard-living, chain-smoking leader of men, who was involved in many facets of Barossa life apart from wine, from the fine arts to tourism and regional planning – interests he shared with his dynamic and supportive wife Margaret. A place at the Lehmanns’ kitchen table at dinner was an occasion to be remembered. 

Lehmann was a larrikin who laughed often and loved to joke, often in a deliberately risqué way. His favourite jokes were played on pompous wine people.

He is best known for his loyalty to the region’s grapegrowers, several times putting his own livelihood on the line to stand up for the growers.

In the early 1960s his employers at Saltram tried to imposed a limit on the tonnage of grapes he could accept during the vintage, and Lehmann refused, using typically colourful language. It happened again in 1978, when red grapes were not wanted and white grapes were in shortage. Lehmann again told his employer where to go, then came up with a way of receiving and vinifying the excess grapes without risk or loss to the company or the growers. He did this again in 1979 and finally quit Saltram in disgust, eventually setting up his own winery Peter Lehmann Wines. PLW travelled a rocky road, going through several traumatic ownership changes, culminating in a public float in 1993 and, after a celebrated and protracted fight with corporate giant Allied Domecq, the family owned Hess Corporation bought the majority of shares, and still owns the company today. 

Lehmann’s loyalty to the growers was repaid with interest, as hundreds of growers backed his business ventures to whatever limit they could afford. Lehmann’s scrupulous honesty and integrity was learnt partly from his father Franz Lehmann but also from Wyndham Hill Smith of Yalumba, his first employer in the ‘50s. The Lehmanns and Hill Smiths have been close ever since. 

Considering how he cheerfully abused his body for most of his lifetime, Lehmann lived a long and happy life and was in surprisingly good health into his 80s. But he’d been declining for many months and had been on dialysis since late last year. 

He is survived by his second wife Margaret and son Douglas, who is a former winemaker and presently a director of Peter Lehmann Wines, and daughter Libby; also his two sons by Margaret: David and Phillip – both of whom are winemakers. David has his own winery named David Franz, and Phillip works for Teusner Wines – both in the Barossa, naturally. 

Peter Lehmann was a one-off. I’m just one of the thousands who will miss him sorely. 

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