Jacob’s Creek goes upmarket as it eyes the future

Jacob’s Creek is a wine brand in transition. As the team behind growing, making and marketing it looks ten, twenty and thirty years into the future, they see – and have laid the foundations for –- a brand with a sense of place and history. And it’ll be led, in future, by benchmark regional varietals and special high quality blends rather than the under-$10 perennial favourites that have defined the brand until now.

It’s not that these bread and butter wines will become less important. With sales this year expected to exceed one million dozen bottles domestically and seven million globally – and growing — they’ll form the base of the Jacob’s Creek brand pyramid for the foreseeable future.

What the future holds, though, is an increasing role for the upmarket Jacob’s Creek wines introduced in recent times — some created especially for the brand, others having recently migrated from the Orlando portfolio.

The first ‘Reserve’ Jacob’s Creek wines arrived in 2000 as exciting, big-value varietals selling at a modest premium to the standard range (about $15 versus $10). These are now an established part of Australian retail offerings and enjoy moderate success. However, the Reserves constitute about 15 per cent of volume in the USA – an indicator of where markets might be headed.

In 1997, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the planting of Johann Gramp’s first vines at Jacob’s Creek in 1847, Orlando showed its first two Jacob’s Creek ‘Limited Release’ wines: a 1994 Barossa Shiraz/Coonawarra Cabernet blend and a Padthaway Chardonnay 1996.

While these and subsequent vintages appear to have made little impact on consumers to date, the reds – especially the sensational 1996 — easily rate amongst Australia’s very best and the rapidly-improving chardonnay is a great show performer.

As the Jacob’s Creek ‘Reserves’ and ‘Limited Release’ wines emerged, Orlando’s French owners, Pernod Ricard, lent full support to the building of the Jacob’s Creek Visitor Centre, a magnificent cellar door, restaurant, conference facility on the banks of Jacob’s Creek.

As the vision for Jacob’s fruit crystallised, the French also supported a ‘buy back the farm’ project, often paying a premium to re-acquire vineyards and land in the vicinity of Jacob’s Creek sold off by the Gramp family or subsequent owners, Reckitt and Coleman.

Then followed an ambitious heritage project aimed at drawing together various strands of the Jacob’s Creek and Gramp family history. During 2004 and 2005 a wild life enclosure was completed along with native plant regeneration on the Jacob’s Creek Visitors centre site on the eastern side of the Lyndoch-Tanunda Road.

And on the western side, Johann Gramp’s original cellars were restored and the family house renovated to include a boardroom, kitchen and VIP dining room. At the same time exotic garden remnants were cleared and native plants established.

Coinciding with this, the well-established Steingarten Riesling, sourced from vineyards in hills on the Jacob’s Creek catchment, subtly changed from ‘Orlando’ to ‘Jacob’s Creek’ branding, as did Centenary Hill Shiraz – a robust red made from vineyards along Jacob’s Creek.

All the pieces finally fell into place recently with a clear four tier structure to the Jacob’s Creek brand: at the top at $100 a bottle is ‘Johann’, the red formerly labelled as ‘Limited Release’; then come four ‘heritage’ wines, the reds at $40 and the whites at $30: Steingarten Barossa Riesling, Centenary Hill Barossa Shiraz, St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet (another migrant from the Orlando brand) and Reeve’s Point Padthaway Chardonnay (formerly ‘Limited Release); then the $15 ‘Reserve varietals and, finally, the big, volume ‘core’ range at $8-$10 a bottle.

Most importantly for consumers, the upmarket additions to Jacob’s Creek are not just names. These are all outstanding wines of some pedigree.

Jacob’s Creek Johann 1999 $100, St Hugo Coonawarra Cabernet 2002 $40, Centenary Hill Barossa Shiraz 1997 $40, Steingarten Barossa Ranges Riesling 2002 $30, Reeve’s Point Padthaway Chardonnay 2002 $30
Meet the posh members of the Jacob’s Creek family: Johann, an extraordinarily rich, elegant Barossa Shiraz, Coonawarra Cabernet blend for long cellaring; Centenary Hill, a powerful, savoury southern Barossa Shiraz based on the 1920s Willandra Vineyard at Jacob’s Creek; St Hugo Cabernet Sauvignon, a Coonawarra classic; Steingarten Riesling, an intense, very fine, bone dry and minerally riesling from the Steingarten and St Helga vineyards in the Barossa ranges immediately to the east of Jacob’s Creek; and Reeve’s Point, a concentrated, barrel fermented, melon-and-peach chardonnay from a very special vineyard at the foot of the Padthaway sand hills.

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2005 & 2007