Profile: Neil McGuigan

15 January, 2013
Neil McGuigan

Neil McGuigan

Passion and knowledge

But behind that bluff Aussie good bloke exterior is a serious, driven man, passionate about Australian wine. On the McGuigan website, asked which wine he would be, McGuigan says: “I would be a flat champagne – an old, tired brut.”

Cheeky, matey – a top bloke all-in-all – McGuigan is everything Australian wine needs. Knowledgeable and passsionate about wine but relaxed and affable with it. Not intense, boring and self righteous as some are.

Neil is married to Debra and they have three children – Margaux (yes, really, 24), Matthew (20) and Marnie (15). 

His grandfather was a struggling dairy farmer in the Hunter valley who laboured in the vineyards to make extra money. Father Perce started in the milk industry but became winemaker at Penfolds Dalwood winery in the Hunter and ended up buying it.

With wine well and truly replacing milk in the McGuigan veins, big brother Brian founded Wyndham Estate. In 1970 Wyndham was sold to a group with Brian remaining as MD. It was floated on the Australian stock exchange in 1984 and taken over by Pernod in 1990.

Neil joined the company in 1978 after studying at the famous Australian university, Roseworthy. In 1992 the McGuigans started McGuigan Wines. It was a publicly listed company.

McGuigan says: “I was there until 1994. I said to Brian: ‘I need to do what I want to do.’ I was in my mid-30s and I needed to see if I could do it myself. Otherwise, I would always be Brian’s little brother.”

He started Briar Ridge boutique winery with someone else. Foster’s liked it and wanted to buy it. Neil says his co-founder did not want to sell so he went to another winery, Rothbury. After four years Brian said it was “time to come back”. So he went back to run production.

“We were making AUS$10 entry-level wine,” says McGuigan. “I said: ‘We are going to make a $100 bottle of wine.’ They said: ‘Are you on drugs?’ I said: ‘Yes,’ pointing at tablets for heartburn.

“We had all the equipment: processes, crushes, filtration, centrifugal, stabilisation. He says. “For a $100 wine you have to have the fruit but then you have to have the will. You have to have the will to get up every day to make a $100 bottle of wine. 

“Once you have the processes in place McGuigan says a “$10 bottle tastes like a $12 bottle of wine”.

He adds: “It took four years, until the end of 2008, and then McGuigan started to pick up awards.”

In 2003 the company McGuigan merged with bulk wine specialists Simeon. The new company then bought Miranda Wines, a specialist in cask and budget sparkling wines. The challenge was to bring bulk and branded together and bring out the best in both.

“I think we have achieved that,” says McGuigan.

There were nine wineries. Now there are three: a large one at Mildura, a medium-sized winery in the Barossa and a boutique operation in the Hunter.

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