Farmer Bros old firm set to rise in the Barossa

If you’re wondering where David Farmer went, I’ve found him in the Barossa. I found his brother Richard there, too. They’re about to re-enter the wine trade.

For those who don’t remember the Farmers, this is the pair that back in 1975 took advantage of Whitlam’s Trade Practices Act and liberalised ACT liquor licensing laws to smash retail price maintenance in the Territory and beyond.

They established Farmer Bros at Manuka in June of that year and by the end of 1976 had a thriving Australia-wide mail order wine business, operating out of a warehouse/store in Mort Street, Braddon.

In 1985, by now with a large store in Sydney’s Waterloo as well, the brothers split — in the acrimonious way to which family partnerships seem prone. David and a group of partners, myself included, bought Richard’s half of the business. Richard promptly set up in opposition. And the original Farmer Bros, now under David’s control, expanded rapidly, quadrupling its turnover, expanding to Melbourne and buying a hotel in Tasmania.

Following the demise of his business, Richard moved out the industry. Farmer Bros survived a little longer. But in late 1994 after a near merger with Cellarmaster Wines – the large and then privately owned wine club operator — the receivers walked in.

The business’s major asset, its mailing list, was sold to Cellarmasters. As a result ‘Farmer Bros Direct’ continues to exist, though Cellarmasters now belongs to Fosters. Coles Myer’s Liquorland Group bought the Farmer Bros stores in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.

David Farmer worked with Cellarmaster for a short period before joining Theo Karedis, owner of Sydney-based Theo’s liquor store chain. With Theo, David established David Farmers warehouse style outlet at Philip and produced those highly distinctive, informative tabloid catalogues that used to fall out of the Canberra Times.

When Theo sold his chain — including the David Farmer outlet — to Coles Myer about two years ago, David continued to produce the David Farmer, Theo’s and Crown of the Hill catalogues for the Sydney and Canberra markets – an arrangement that continued until June this year.

By this time Coles Myer had re-branded the David Farmer store twice – firstly as Theo’s and now as First Choice, a brand created to take on Woolworths Dan Murphy chain.

Meanwhile, the ever inventive David had slipped off to the Barossa and established, an idiosyncratic website built around wine but including an eclectic mix of politics, election polls, food, book reviews, industry news and analysis, much of the latter provided by brother Richard.

While David provides a marketing consultancy to several wineries in the Barossa, he’d established Glug as an entrée back into wine retailing. This time, however, his comeback will be as vigneron – he already has the license – by tapping into small parcels of fruit from high-quality Barossa vineyards and having these made into wine by leading local producers.

The first of these are to be released at the National Press Club in November. I’ll cover these in a later article. But the topic of interest for next week will be a look at David’s perspective of the Barossa’s surprisingly diverse viticultural landscape.

A geologist before turning to the wine trade, Farmer’s been sleuthing the Barossa landscape for several years now, seeking to understand what created the various land surfaces and pondering the diversity of wine styles that each of these might create.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2005 & 2007