Wild Oatley sows another crop

Bob Oatley, the bloke behind Rosemount Wines, recently hopped back into the wine saddle a little over a year after dismounting. And like anything Bob attempts, it’s a venture on a serious scale.

If you don’t know Bob, think – or imagine — back to 1969. Australians had just begun to embrace table wine and Bob, seeing a future in it, established Rosemount Wines near Denman in the Upper Hunter Valley, New South Wales.

It all seems easy in retrospect, but Oatley built one of Australia’s most recognised brands, spearheaded by the famous Diamond Label chardonnay. It’s all the more credit to him that he earned much of the growth and recognition during the eighties – a period of perennial over production, characterised by discounting and pinched margins for wine producers.

Oatley was one of a handful of Australian wine producers (Wolf Blass, Mildara’s Ray King and Brown Brothers join this elite) to grasp the concept of brand building with all the disciplines – and rewards — that it brings.

Ultimately the Rosemount brand succeeded in the United Kingdom and America as well as in Australia. And by the time of Rosemount’s acquisition by Southcorp in 2001, for $1.5billion, it had grown massively beyond its Hunter base to include vineyards in Coonawarra, McLaren Vale and Mudgee.

But the Southcorp takeover proved disastrous and Oatley sold his block of shares in the company to Fosters in 2005, precipitating a takeover.

Now in his seventies, Oatley and his family maintained ownership of several substantial vineyards in Mudgee. These formed the nucleus of Bob’s recently announced Oatley Wines venture. But there was more to come.

On December first, 2006, a press release announced the Oatley family’s purchase of Orlando’s Mudgee vineyards, winery, cellar door and restaurant.

The purchase included the Poet’s Corner Winery (founded as Montrose wines in 1974)), the historic Craigmoor facility (founded 1858) and an impressive suite of vineyards, including a lovely plot of Italian varieties planted for Montrose by Carlo Corino in the 1970s.

The Oatleys (with James Manners as winemaker) will continue to make Mudgee wine for Orlando and they will continue to own and market the Mudgee based Poets Corner and Henry Lawson brands.

Meanwhile the Oatleys have two ranges of wines ready to hit the market this month – the $25 Robert Oatley Range (Mudgee Chardonnay, Barossa Shiraz Viognier) and the $18 Wild Oats range (Western Australia Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, Adelaide Hills Pinot Grigio, Mudgee Chardonnay, Mudgee Rosé, Western Australia Cabernet Merlot and South Australia Shiraz Viognier).

The Oatleys will continue to operate the cellar door and restaurant at Craigmoor and intend to re-introduce the Montrose and Craigmoor brands.

Typically, Bob has a pool of talent surrounding him, notably Chris Hancock, one of the shrewdest strategists and marketers in the business and a key to the global success of the original Rosemount business.

To borrow a nautical term – appropriate for the owner of maxi yacht Wild Oats – we can be sure that Bob intends to run a tight ship. Short lines of command, substantial volumes, high quality, good margins and strong branding won the day in the past and will quite likely do so in the future for the Oatley ship and its navigator, Chris Hancock.

I’ve not tasted any of the wines yet but will report back after they come onto the market.

WINE REVIEWS

Galli Estate Dos Rojo Camelback Vineyard Tempranillo Grenache Mourvedre 2005 about $20
Galli Estate of Sunbury, near Melbourne Airport, produces an appealing range of reds priced from around $10 (Victorian Shiraz, an earthy quaffer) to the more luxurious Heathcote Block 2 Shiraz at $25. In between sits this savoury, more-ish blend of tempranillo, grenache and mourvedre from Heathcote, McLaren Vale and the Pyrenees. The blend works well, delivering bright, fresh berry fruit flavours with the savoury edge and fine tannic bite to go well with food. It’s one of those wines that becomes more interesting as you progress through the bottle. It’s distributed in the ACT or can be ordered from the winery at www.galliestate.com.au

Stoneleigh Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2006 $16 to $19
Stoneleigh, part of New Zealand’s Montana Group, belongs now to French owned Pernod Ricard – proprietors, as well, of Australia’s Orlando Wines. Stoneleigh’s sauvignon blanc, sourced from the warmer Rapaura sub-region of Marlborough, is distinct from the more herbaceous Montana style, produced from the cooler Brancott area. Stoneleigh presents the passionfruit and tropical character of ripe sauvignon cut with bracing minerally acidity – reminding us that Marlborough really is a cool area even in its warmer sites. What makes Marlborough really special, though, is that the bracing acidity becomes a refreshing foil to the amazingly juicy, luscious fruit flavour.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2007

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