Profile: Neil McGuigan

McGuigan Wines has just been acclaimed World’s Best Winemaker for an unprecedented third time. Christian Davis talks to the man who makes it all happen

I have often wondered what it must be like to be in the presence of greatness. I met Neil McGuigan, the World’s Best Winemaker recently in London. How did it feel? Well, OK. He may be wine deity but he is really nice guy, a bonzer bloke as his Australian compatriots would say. There was no discernable aura. No scrolls or head dresses made of laurel leaves. No white gowns or golden slippers. Just a smart, well-cut business suit, actually.

So how does it feel to be the greatest winemaker on the planet? Well, Neil McGuigan seems pretty relaxed about it. McGuigan Wines, of which he is general manager production and wine supply, has just been voted World’s Best Winemaker for the third time in four years by the International Wine & Spirit Competition.

McGuigan himself is White Winemaker of the Year, according to the International Wine Challenge. Both competitions are prestigious and respected. But it has to be said that both awards are based on companies entering .

The key to winning the trophy was McGuigan Wines’ performance across the IWSC competition, with a 100% success rate – 39 wines entered, 39 medals received. McGuigan Wines was awarded the International Semillon Trophy in addition to nine gold, 22 silver and eight bronze medals including, eight best in class awards.

The backbone of the success was the McGuigan Bin 9000 Semillon, with the 2004 vintage taking home the  International Semillon Trophy. In addition the 1997 and 2011 vintages won gold best in class while the 2003 and 2005 vintages of the Bin 9000 Semillon were awarded gold. The 2009 vintage of McGuigan Farms Shiraz from the Barossa Valley also won gold best in class, as did the 2007 McGuigan Shortlist Semillon.

Apart from the fact that Neil is one of the McGuigan dynasty – they are to Australian wine what the Kennedy or Bush families are to American presidents, although the McGuigans have had nothing to do with Marilyn Monroe or Iraq (Editor: as far as we know). He represents the latest generation of high-profile Australian winemakers and producers telling benighted wine drinkers how “bloody good” Aussie wine is.

Neil follows in the giant footsteps of his 70-year-old brother Brian, who is one of the modern Australian wine trade pioneers, along with the likes of Len Evans, Peter Lehmann, Wolf Blass, Murray Tyrrell, Brian Croser, James Halliday and Bill Hardy.

Asked how old he is, this Aussie giant of wine shoots back: “Twenty-six.” Then there is a pause and the characteristic McGuigan twinkle in the eye: “Well, 54.” ‘Young’ Neil comes from a long line of “Pommie baiters”. One minute you can be getting riled at what he is saying, then too late you realise he is just winding you up. Beware: this man has a serious sense of humour.