McGuigan built an entire vineyard in the city for the people of London and Dublin to show them where popular wines come from. German wine enthusiasts are increasingly becoming familiar with the name. It represents excellent, often outstanding quality from the hand of the “World’s Best Winemaker”.
2012 has been another truly successful year for Neil McGuigan. At the London International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC), he and his company won three top winemaking trophies once again and was crowned “International Winemaker of the Year” for the third time; an unprecedented feat, never before achieved by any winemaker in the history of the competition. In addition, he was named 2012’s “White Wine Maker of the Year” at the International Wine Challenge which just goes to prove that Neil McGuigan, chief winemaker and CEO of his family company, is on a mission; a mission to make the best wine possible at any price, for him, “My greatest satisfaction every day is to see how people enjoy our wines. There is nothing better than that.”
There is no doubt that Neil McGuigan is one of the best winemakers of Australia. At the age of five he was already playing in empty barrels. As the McGuigans say themselves, wine has been “in our blood for four generations”. It all started with Owen Patrick McGuigan, a farmer born in the Hunter Valley, and who helped out with the grape harvest at the end of the 19th century in order to make a little extra money for his large family. Little by little, the entire family became passionate about wine, and his son Perce McGuigan, went on to run the Penfold’s Dalwood vineyard in the Upper Hunter Valley and in the 1960s developed the Lower Hunter Valley for Penfold’s, becoming one of the most important winemaker personalities in Australia.
It is hardly surprising that Perce’s son, Brian McGuigan, Australian wine industry statesman, followed in the family tradition, working for some of Australia’s best-known brands such as Wyndham and then breaking out on his own to create the McGuigan Wines brand in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Thirty years on, Brain, his wife Faye and, current McGuigan torch bearer, brother Neil, have made their family name an international standard for excellent quality Australian wine. Their commitment and passion have meant that the McGuigan Wine brand has now expanded out of the confines of the Hunter Valley and Australia and is now one of the top ten brands in key export wine markets, such as the UK and Ireland.
Today Neil has the job of carrying on the family tradition and continuing to grow the family brand in new markets. His passion for wine was nurtured and honed during his admirable career making wine and managing such brands as Wyndham and Rothbury Estate. Today he manages 2700 hectares of vineyard and a company that is Australia’s second largest producer, owning vineyards in many of the country’s premium growing regions.
Two of the company’s cellars in the Hunter Valley and in the Barossa Valley produce wines, which are brand leaders in Great Britain and Ireland. The Black Label range, which this year celebrates its 20th anniversary, the McGuigan Classic, as well as McGuigan Reserve, and the premium wines ‘Shortlist’ and ‘Handmade’ ranges have all helped to establish the reputation of McGuigan as the pioneers of a new generation of Australian families – giving the consumer great value in their glass but also challenging perceptions and developing the new styles of Australian wine.
Neil McGuigan recently made a breakthrough in the UK market creating a whole new category with Semillon Blanc. Using a Hunter Valley classic varietal Neil and his team used their winemaking expertise to create a lighter style of white wine in a more aromatic style, as Neil says “Semillon, like you have never seen it before!” And this concept, like many others that Neil is developing with his team, epitomises the desire to get new wine styles into consumers glasses in order to prove the versatility and diversity of what the McGuigan’s and Australia can produce.
Obvious historical links have meant that English speaking markets have been key to the McGuigan success until now. Hailing originally from Ireland, the McGuigan family are loyal to their roots but also keen to expand the brand’s success into other key European markets such as Germany. This family loyalty to those people who have helped them along the way was demonstrated earlier this year when Brian and Neil took the “McGuigan City Vineyard” to Dublin. One of their first ever export markets, the Irish now drink more McGuigan wine than any other nation in the world, and to show their appreciation the brothers set up a vineyard in the heart of Dublin to consumers and trade partners a like to get closer to the vines and discover a living breathing vineyard for themselves.
This kind of exercise is of paramount importance to the McGuigan family, getting closer to their consumers and having a real “hands-on” approach is how they get to find out more about what consumers enjoy about wine and how they can make the right wines for the right drinking occasions. McGuigan Wines regularly win medals at important competitions. At the International Wine & Spirits Challenge, 10% of all Australian gold medals went to the brand and sister wines in the portfolio. At the Decanter Wine Awards they walked away with two trophies and this top-selling brand has been recognised as one of the 20 mostadmired wine brands alongside the likes of Cheval Blanc and Romanée-Conti.
“Not bad going for a boy from the Hunter,” says Neil, who is dedicated to pursuing his dream of making the best wines possible at the very best price. “McGuigan is about what is important about wine; getting the fruit and the expression and a sense of place into the glass and that the person who is drinking it not only gets enjoyment but also feels they have spent their money well. Our family is about getting the very best out of our land and our vines so that the people who drink McGuigan wines want to keep coming back for more.