Neil McGuigan: Australian wine has its mojo back

Brand Australia has got its mojo back, so says Neil McGuigan, the mercurial CEO of Australian Vintage, which owns McGuigan Wines.

Shortly to step down, McGuigan was in London this week to lead a tasting of his Adelaide Hills Shortlist Rieslings and Hunter Valley Semillon Bin 9000s.

Always outspoken, sometimes with tongue firmly in the cheek, the 61-year-old said that the Australian wine industry had “lost its mojo about 15-20 years ago”. But he was happy to announced that Brand Australia was back.

Tasting the Shortlist rieslings from 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2019, followed by Semillon Bin 9000 from 2003, 2007, 2013 and 2019, McGuigan said the company had got back to basics and inaugurated a maturation programme to lay down the company’s top wines for future consideration (judging) and consumption.

Between sips and slurps, the ebullient McGuigan pronounced: “We are lucky to be Australian winemakers. We have flexibility,” he paused. “We make fantastic wines that are appropriate to the market place.”

Speaking specifically about the white wines at the tasting, McGuigan commented that as well as the cellar, maturation programme and concentration on quality, the use of screw caps from around 2004 had made a “significant” improvement to the wines, particularly the white wines.

“Maturation has not been a cheap exercise,” he commented. He said experimentation, innovation with improved viticultural and vinification techniques continued but there had been failures, such as with the French Rhône varieties, Roussanne and Marsanne. They had proved unsuiitable and the vines had been grubbed up.

McGuigan said the company was looking actively at cool climate Tasmania, Victoria and parts of New South Wales for future plantings.

The company is just about to introduce a range of 0.0 alcohol-free wines called Zero, a white, red, rosé and a sparkling. McGuigan said the wines were "on the water".  The UK retailer, Morrisons, will be first to sell the range.