Levantine Hill takes on Grange, Hill of Grace, launches $800 wines

Levantine Hill Estate’s founder Elias Jreissati (left) and winemaker Paul Bridgeman with the Optume wines. Levantine Hill Wines

Levantine Hill has played an extraordinary trump card in the Yarra Valley, debuting two red wines priced at AUD $800 each. The winery proudly claims these are the most expensive wines ever produced in the Yarra Valley, and perhaps Victoria.

Levantine Hill’s first vintage was in 2012 and its wines have achieved astonishing heights in a very brief time. They’ve been rated highly by The Real Review, and although we haven’t tried the Optumes yet, we will soon, and we anticipate they will be of the high quality we’ve come to expect from this winery.

The two Levantine Hill Optume wines, a shiraz and a cabernet sauvignon both from the 2017 vintage were produced in tiny quantities—just 65 dozen bottles of the shiraz and 58 of the cabernet.

But how must this display of hubris make other Yarra Valley winemakers feel? Offended, perhaps? Insulted even? It sends a message that Levantine Hill believe they are the best in the Yarra Valley, which seems like a massive overreach. Although the grapes appear to have been sourced from well-established top vineyards (exact details are a secret) Levantine Hill’s brand is less than a decade old.

By way of contrast, Yarra Yering’s first vines were planted in 1969, so they’re now more than 50 years old. Yeringberg has a history stretching back to 1863. Mount Mary Vineyard has been producing some of Australia’s finest and most acclaimed wines for 50 years.

The people behind the aforementioned names are among the pioneers of Yarra Valley wine. They went out on a limb and mortgaged themselves to the hilt to buy land, plant vines and devote the rest of their lives to developing and refining their vineyards and their wines. These people made a massive commitment to their métier. The effort made by true pioneers cannot be overstated. In a world where far fewer people cared about fine wine, they took great risks.

In a region which at the time gave scant encouragement to outsiders who dreamed of producing fine wine, they shooed the sheep off the paddocks and dug grapevine cuttings into the earth, and hoped they would grow. In a global world which was still convinced that only the Old World could make fine wine, they battled against prejudice to show opinion leaders something new and exciting.

The family behind Levantine Hill have made a massive commitment in money and used their wealth acquired in other places to buy the kind of profile others have worked for decades to achieve. Is this fair?

No doubt some Yarra Valley wine people will adopt a generous position and declare that it’s all good for the valley. It makes news, it attracts attention and it helps raise the bar for wine prices—which can benefit everyone else. A rising tide lifts all boats, etc.

But there is something distasteful about the ‘bidding war’, a sort of ‘arms race’ that we are seeing not only in the Yarra but in Margaret River, the Barossa and other places.

Wine has become a status symbol, and this must stick in the craw of those who still treat viticulture as farming and who see themselves as primary producers, humble custodians of the land and students of nature.

The two Levantine Hill Optume wines, a shiraz and a cabernet sauvignon both from the 2017 vintage, were produced in tiny quantities—just 65 dozen bottles of the shiraz and 58 of the cabernet. Naturally, no one could expect to sell much of such expensive wines from a standing start. Tellingly, they’re not necessarily from Levantine Hill’s own relatively young vines: the shiraz grapes came from three sites spread across the valley; the cabernet from ‘specifically selected vineyard plots located in the Yarra Valley’s Golden Mile for cabernet sauvignon’.

The winery’s publicity draws a comparison with Penfolds Grange, which is currently AUD $950. But Grange was created 70 years ago by a company that was founded in 1844. Penfolds has gradually worked its price up to that level over decades of proving itself in the world theatre. It has the runs on the board.

I would love to hear what you think. Please feel free to express your opinion in the comments section below.

15 thoughts on “Levantine Hill takes on Grange, Hill of Grace, launches $800 wines”

  1. Avatar
    Visited 5-10 years ago. says:

    I recall that Yarra Valley air in a compressed can was being sold at Levantine Hill quite some years ago. Some wines were priced at 88 or 888 dollars (in a set). There is no doubt in the direction of the marketing at the time I visited.

    Personally I don’t enjoy that kind of marketing on products that are somewhat subjective in its quality at that price point. But my veiw is also subjective. Who doesn’t get swayed by the lable anyway?

  2. Avatar
    andrew@winestothestars.com says:

    Huon. With great respect to the Levantine Hill owners & winemaking team I am yet to see any detailed review of this wine by you or your tasting team as yet. How therefore are you in position to comment?

    1. Huon Hooke
      Huon Hooke says:

      Hitherto, they were shy of showing them to the press, but that attitude has since been relaxed and two of the wines were reviewed on TRR in June 2023. We will also be serving the chardonnay in our Brisbane Fine Dining dinner on Nov 21.

  3. Avatar
    Ray Weeks says:

    I have read the comments & reposts with some interest and as a humble wine consumer express my considerable disappointment that I will never have the chance to taste any of these wines. Who in full possession of their senses is going to buy a bottle of wine at these prices to drink with dinner. The marketing luminaries need to keep in mind that increasing prices to unrealistic heights will likely produce buyer resistance & divert their attention to other beverages available.
    I am old enough to recall that Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc was top of the pile many years ago until they increased their price and allowed other labels an opportunity in the marketplace. I’m not in a position to know but strongly suspect CB’s dominant market share was substantially reduced in the years following and I for one have found many more economical alternatives.

  4. Avatar
    Richard O'Brien says:

    Levantine Hill make very good wines and their facilities are fabulous. They have made a huge contribution to the Yarra Valley. However, I have always had the impression, right from their early days, that their wines were highly priced in relation to equivalent quality offerings from the Yarra Valley. I’ve assumed this is a smart marketing strategy rather than hubris, and if they are selling their wines, good luck to them. Personally I find my wine wine purchasing dollars are best directed elsewhere, but that’s my own choice. Wealthy people want to buy expensive wines and I suspect the optume wines will find buyers. Levantine Hill make some good points in relation to age of vineyards and winemaking talent, but I agree with many of Huon’s sentiments and I just hope other producers in the Valley don’t follow suit!

  5. Avatar
    Paul says:

    This sort of thing is good for a winery’s profile and maybe sales, especially when the winery is relatively new and not everyone has tried their other wines. What I take exception to is the suspicion of price gouging to serve a marketing objective if not make a lot of money since the volumes are so small. I find myself wondering how much it cost to make these wines, and how much the (not Levantine Hill) vignerons were paid for their input. Compare what a consumer can get from top end Riesling in this country, where the vine is relatively trouble free and the wine requires no oak, even the very best examples with the longest history are still in the $50-60 range, and offer excellent cellaring to boot. Its cheap to make and sold at a price point accordingly since the variety is not currently ‘sexy’. Yet here we have a thus far completely unproven offering, pitched at a price point approaching Australia’s very best products. I don’t like it, and rather then tweak my interest about Levantine Hill, I am turned off the winery without even tasting any of their wine.

  6. Garry Barron
    Garry Barron says:

    THE PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING! I can see both sides of the argument here. Penfolds and HOG have the points on the board and both have remarkable aging ability. But for me it is the sky high price, huge jump from other wines in their portfolio. I have personally stopped buying Grange and HOG as just can’t see the value for money. Be interested in the coming tasting reviews from the scribes! For Levantine Hill if they can sell it then well done.

  7. Avatar
    dieter03@optusnet.com.au says:

    ‘We have a dream to build a lasting family legacy in the wonderful Yarra Valley. As people, we are restless, hard-working, risk takers, aspirational, and unapologetic in our ambitions and drive.’
    This says it all. It implies they believe they are unique in this regard. For the record, my grandparents were vignerons and winemakers in Europe. They were brought to the brink of ruin by some crappy vintages in the 1930s. They too dreamt, were hard-working, risk-takers, and unapologetic in their ambitions to provide for their three children. Likewise, the same applies to just about every other wine producer in the Yarra Valley, I imagine. I guess the keyword about Levantine Hill is ‘Aspirational’. It sounds as though their aspiration is not to do with wine, but rather to do with image and exclusivity. I can imagine the Cellar Door manager taking millionaire customers aside and whispering the word ‘Bespoke’.

  8. Avatar
    Peter Gunning says:

    I sense that this is wine made for the ‘prestige palate’. Personally, I would prefer to spend this on a dozen Rockford Basket Press Shiraz or Seppelt St Peter’s Shiraz. In the absence of unlimited wealth, we in the wine buying public can only look at Grange, HoG or LH and thank heavens there are still great wines at affordable prices made by genuine enthusiast producers who are looking to enhance the life of we poor wine enthusiasts. My parting comment is the expectation that at least some of these ‘prestige palate’ wines will be consumed in mixture with coca cola. Ahhh, perhaps no more fitting end it it all!

    1. Huon Hooke
      Huon Hooke says:

      And at least some of those who can afford the exxy wines like to share them with we ordinary mortals, Peter!

  9. Avatar
    Levantine Hill Estate says:

    Dear Huon

    We relish extraordinary challenges and we are energised by the pursuit of possibilities. We have a dream to build a lasting family legacy in the wonderful Yarra Valley. As people, we are restless, hard-working, risk takers, aspirational, and unapologetic in our ambitions and drive.

    Whilst we thank you for recognising that our wines are of high quality, we take issue with the crux of your article: it criticises our origins, belittles our people’s hard work and ambition, and describes a product release as hubris and distasteful without actually having sampled the product. Whilst we encourage respectful dialogue and debate in journalism, your article contains factual inaccuracies that are worthy of correction.

    First, our marketing never drew comparisons with Grange. In fact, our wines are, as you stated in previous articles, the polar opposite to the traditionally accepted Australian style of big, bold wines. We are honoured to be mentioned with these iconic wines, but these are comments made by others, not by us. The weight of such a comparison only motivates us to strive harder.

    Secondly, you conflate the age of our brand with the age of our vineyards. We acquired various vineyards that were planted over many decades, as far back as 1976 (ironically, some acquired from Grange’s owners). The vines’ 46 years of age are not much younger than Yarra Yering’s first vines, which you fondly refer to as possessing sufficient age to warrant credibility as a brand. In any case, we do not subscribe to the view that vine age or duration of single ownership is an indicator of quality.

    Thirdly, perhaps it did not intend to, but your article belittles the risks our family and many of our employees have taken in establishing this Yarra Valley wine brand. You have assumed we have not mortgaged our homes, pivoted from other careers, or taken on massive and ongoing risks. We too have invested the product of some 40 years of hard work into this wine business. Some of the brands you mention in the Yarra Valley are indeed inspirational pioneers of Yarra Valley wine and we continue to look up to them. But some of those Yarra Valley brands have too been acquired by new owners since their inception. You have spared their transfer of ownership and custodianship the dose of belittling that was dished out to us.

    We would add, our winemaker Paul Bridgeman, is a Yarra Valley stalwart. The people working at Levantine Hill, across our vineyards and cellar door, are true and trusted professionals that are infected by common ideals and goals. Yet they do not appear entitled to the cumulative kudos that assembling all we have done, all we have risked, and all that we are trying to do, should command.

    The negativity in your article is heartbreaking and, indeed, demoralising for many of our team members who are bewildered by your approach. We remain of the view that striving to lift the bar should be encouraged rather than torn down. Investing in time, effort, and people, ought to be commended. Having a go is as Australian as can be. The end-product is a subjective one, and that is one of the splendours of wine.

    Levantine Hill is an inter-generational business; one where a life’s worth of effort, work and accumulated wealth has been lovingly poured in to. Our pursuit to achieve the impossible, in the shortest time possible, with the best people possible, is relentless. Our aims, oft criticised by many, have emboldened us to stay focused, trailblaze, and in fact crystallise what no one believed was possible. Optume is just one part of that.

    Levantine Hill Estate

    1. Huon Hooke
      Huon Hooke says:

      I intended no hurt or disrespect, and I’m sorry if indeed my article caused heartbreak and disillusion at Levantine Hill, as you say. Indeed, I have great regard and respect for what has been achieved at the Levantine Hill property, and for the wines. Chief winemaker Paul Bridgeman is, I know, a son of the Yarra Valley soil and is doing a sterling job. Not only that, but he’s making wines of individuality, much harder than making merely good wines.
      It might not have been quite correct to say the winery’s publicity drew a comparison with Grange, but this relates to comments to me by your marketing person that the $800 price of Optume “puts it into the Grange territory and possibly Victoria’s most expensive wine.”

      1. Avatar
        Levantine Hill Estate says:

        Dear Huon

        Your response is deeply appreciated by all of us at Levantine Hill.

  10. Avatar
    Lushmuddled says:

    I am more of the opinion that you mentioned – surely a rising tide raises all boats. As for the heritage and history of things like Grange, HOG, Laird etc, it doesn’t matter how they got to the price they have – it matters that they ARE that price. Whether it’s the weight of history or the sheer volume of investment doesn’t matter in my opinion. Levantine Hill *might* be saying that they’re better than other Yarra Valley producers, but let’s not pretend this doesn’t happen in every wine region in Australia. Brokenwood V Mt Pleasant, Woodlands V Cloudburst, Clarendon Hills V Yangarra etc etc. What makes it unique here is the scale. Sth Australia has an international marketability which Yarra simply doesn’t, but if Levantine Hill think they’re up to scratch and can justify that price, then I’m happy to let them play the game.

    That being said, it still presents a question to me of whether these wines, which will be entirely out of reach to 99.9% of drinkers, are worth celebrating or whether they should be classified as statistical anomalies.

    1. Huon Hooke
      Huon Hooke says:

      It’s good for marketing. It’s got us talking, which is what establishing a brand is all about.

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