Three wine industry entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurs in the wine industry are not always winemakers or even ‘wine people’. Like Joe Chromy, they are often outside business people who see opportunities. Some, like Phil Sexton of Giant Steps, are in related industries: Sexton was a brewer first. Some, like Denis Horgan of Leeuwin Estate, are businessmen who happen to buy a farm or vineyard as a minor part of a larger acquisition and decide to use it for its best purpose. Others, like Brian McGuigan (who started Wyndham Estate and McGuigan Wines), are born into wine families. Here are three entrepreneurs with contrasting stories.
Joe Chromy is a Czech migrant who swam across a river to flee the oppression in his native country in the 1950s. When he arrived in Tasmania he did what his family had done and got involved in the meat and livestock industry, where he made his pile. He then bought a series of Tasmanian wine properties and became one of the most significant players in the state’s wine industry, owning at various times Rochecombe, Heemskerk, Tamar Ridge and now the eponymous Josef Chromy winery near Launceston. Joe has also developed hotels and has his fingers in many pies. His long-serving chief winemaker is Jeremy Dineen.
Recommended wine: 2017 Josef Chromy Pinot Gris.
Randall is a winemaker by training and profession, although for the past 20 years he’s been more businessman-entrepreneur than winemaker. When I first met Randall he was the fresh-faced but ambitious young sparkling winemaker at Seppelt’s Great Western in the mid-1980s. Today, he’s the largest owner of vineyards in McLaren Vale, the Barossa Valley and – with his most recent acquisitions – the Clare Valley. He bought the historic Quelltaler winery and a stack of vineyards from Treasury Wine Estates last October.
In the ‘80s he was bold and confident enough to tell the Seppelt family they should rip out all their ondenc vines and replace them with pinot noir and chardonnay if they wanted him to make decent bubbly. They did.
As the owner of Seppeltsfield, he’s revived one of Australia’s most majestic and historic wine properties and embellished its lustre, adding a fine restaurant and many other visitor facilities. Cranking up the export market in China is among his recent obsessions. Seppeltsfield has just re-packaged and relaunched its table wine range.
Recommended wine: 2017 Seppeltsfield Grenache.
Hohnen was the prime mover in the establishment of Cape Mentelle Vineyards in Margaret River in the early 1970s, followed by Cloudy Bay in Marlborough in the early 1980s, later negotiating the sale of both to French drinks company Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy. Hohnen’s deep knowledge of viticulture and winemaking, his understanding of wine quality and sound commercial sense made him an unusually complete wine-man. After leaving Cape Mentelle, he and his brother-in-law Murray McHenry established a new wine venture nearby in Margaret River, McHenry Hohnen Vintners. These days Hohnen is a shareholder but has no other involvement.
Hohnen is today closer to the land than ever. He’s most visible selling meat products from his own pork and sheep herds at the Margaret River farmers’ market or in his retail outlet The Farm House.
His latest venture, with winemaker daughter Freya and British marketer Rupert Clevely, is Crackerjack, a brokerage that trades in wines from WA and Bordeaux to sell in Britain and Ireland.
Recommended wine: 2016 McHenry Hohnen Hazel’s Vineyard Chardonnay.