Dr Tony Jordan, a pioneering member of the Australian wine industry, began his career in 1974 as a lecturer in science at what is now Charles Sturt University. He developed the winemaking course there and later founded the Oenotech consulting group with Brian Croser. Over the course of his career, he helped to found Domaine Chandon in the Yarra Valley for LVMH and was later appointed CEO of Cape Mentelle, Chandon and Cloudy Bay in New Zealand. He died this week. Robert Joseph pays tribute to him.
My first meeting with Dr Tony Jordan was over three decades ago. I was the nervous guest judge at one of Australia’s leading wine competitions and he was the panel chair to whom I and the other tasters had to call our scores for each of the over 200 wines we tasted every day. I remember his aquiline features as he noted down the numbers, and the brief raised eyebrow as I’d evidently over- or under-rated a wine. And the similarly brief nod of acknowledgement when he thought I’d got it ‘right’.
And I also remember his friendly companionship as we all shared beers at the end of the day, and his readiness to share his own knowledge and eagerness to learn anything anyone else might have to offer. (Which in my case was very little.)
Another time, a few years later, at another wine show when I had what I thought was a totally debilitating cold and found myself on a panel judging sparkling wines with Jordan and Brian Walsh of Yalumba, another of Australia’s leading experts. The two men agreed about most of the wines, but every now and then their views differed. Listening to them arguing their case politely but with passion was like watching top class tennis players trading shots. I think Jordan probably won most of those exchanges, but he gave way gracefully when he didn’t.
And that’s the point. Dr Tony Jordan was one of the wine people I’ve met who always struck me as the kind of skilled, confident pilot you’d trust to fly you anywhere. Since his early days as a consultant – in partnership with that other luminary Brian Croser, with whom he also often disagreed – Jordan was a supreme teacher who cared deeply about wine and helping others to look at it with his kind of analytical eye.
His role in the Australian industry began with his involvement with the creation in the 1970s of the wine science program at Charles Sturt University. A decade later, he set up the Domaine Chandon sparkling wine operation for LVMH, and went on – collaborating with chef de cave Richard Geoffroy – to help to improve and launch the French giant’s offshoots in countries ranging from the USA to India. More recently, he also spent several years on behalf of LVMH exploring China before finding the over-2,000-metre site in which it now produces its super-premium red wine Ao Yun.
Other wine businesses that have benefitted from Jordan’s input have included Hunter’s in New Zealand, Tolpuddle in Tasmania and Spear Gully in the Yarra Valley which he launched with his British-born wife, Michelle.
Jordan loved the Yarra and Australian wine in general and was devoted to its industry. This was recognised by various official marks of recognition, including the recent creation of the Dr Tony Jordan OAM Award annual prize for the most outstanding Wine Australia PhD scholarship applicant.
I remained in occasional phone contact with Jordan, relying on his knowledge when I had a technical query, and stayed with him and Michelle in their house in the Yarra a few years ago, when he was still fit and talking about other possible journeys of viticultural exploration like the ones he had undertaken in China. We drank Pinot Noir - his favourite grape – from Australia and Burgundy and talked about wines of every kind, and all sorts of possible technical advances for the industry. And, as I had, three decades earlier, I felt like a student who had been lucky enough to find himself in the presence of one of the great mentors of his day. He will be missed but not forgotten.