At McGuigan, the wine is the hero

Those who work at award-winning Australian winery McGuigan Wines have their eyes firmly on the prize.

Mr Neil McGuigan, 55, chief executive of its parent company, Australian Vintage, who is also chief winemaker of McGuigan Wines, says: "For us, the wine is the hero, and if we lose sight of the wine being the hero, we're not going to have a wine business."

The winery is located in Hunter Valley, a well-known wine-making district about 150km north of Sydney. It is known for producing a range of wines, from entry level to premium.

It is Australia's fifth largest producer, and its business also includes contract winemaking for other companies and producing bulk wine.

He says: "We want to make sensational wines at every level as well as create wines that are approachable and enjoyable for people just getting into them."

Mr McGuigan was thrice named International Winemaker Of The Year at the prestigious annual International Wine & Spirit Competition in 2009, 2011 and last year. He is the only winemaker to have received that award three times since the competition began in 1969.

On winning the trifecta, the Hunter Valley born-and-bred winemaker says: "It is unbelievable. It is something you work for your whole life. I had been trying to win that award since 1983. My name's on the trophy, but it's really not just me, it's the business. I've got 18 guys under me and they do a fantastic job."

The winery produces both red and white wines including Shiraz, Merlot, Chardonnay, Semillon, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio.

Price points for its wines in Australia range from A$10 (S$11.60) a bottle to A$120 a bottle.

Here, McGuigan Wines include its affordably priced Black Label series Shiraz, Chardonnay and Merlot wines which are available at Cold Storage supermarkets and priced at $25.80 a bottle.

Its more premium wines, such as the Private Bin, Farm and Handmade series, are available at restaurants such as French, Chinese and Japanese restaurant Me@OUE in Collyer Quay, and steakhouse Prime Society in Dempsey Hill.

To keep up with the times and create new opportunities for itself, the winery has also been innovating new styles and planting new grape varietals.

Two years ago, it launched a Semillon Blanc, a lively and citrusy white wine which involves leaving grapes on the vine for longer before harvesting.

The winery now also makes low alcohol wine primarily for Britain, and has also planted new grape vatietals such as Gruner Veltliner, a white grape varietal from Austria; Prosecco, Maestri and Montepulciano from Italy; and Carmenere, a red grape varietal originally from Bordeux that has thrived in countries such as Chile.

Indeed, his passion stems from his winemaking lineage. He is the youngest of five children and remembers spending his growing-up years climbing into wine casks through the small cask doors to clean the inside.

His late paternal grandfather Owen first started making wines in the Hunter Valley in the late 1800s. His father, Perc, who turns 100 in November, used to be a winemaker at Penfolds, then went on to open Wyndham Estate, also in the Hunter Valley, in 1968.

After Wyndham Estate went public and was later bought over, his eldest brother Brian, together with another brother Ross, opened McGuigan Wines in 1992. Both are now retired but Brian still sits on the board of directors.

Their other two siblings are not involved in the business - one is a rheumatologist and the other is a music teacher.

The chief executive began his career in 1978 at Wyndham Estate, after graduating with a degree in oenology from Roseworthy College in South Australia.

He then worked with his brothers to establish McGuigan Wines but left to pursue other winemaking interests shortly after, only to return in 2004 to become the winery's general manager of production and wine supply.

His wife, Deborah, is a primary school teacher and they have three children: Margaux, 25, a lawyer; Matthew, 21, who is in his final semester of a degree in business and commerce; and Marnie, 16, who is in high school.

On his hopes for his kids and the next generation to enter the business, he says: "I'm not forcing them to do it, but who knows?

"The wine industry is a tough gig - you can't be in it for the money. You have to be in it because you love it and you think that there is a wonderful opportunity to showcase Australian wines to the world."

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