Profile: Neil McGuigan

15 January, 2013
Neil McGuigan

Neil McGuigan

In 2007 the company acquired Nepenthe, a brand known for more elegant, cool-climate varieties. The new enlarged company became Australian Vintage.

Talking about his brother’s current role in the company, McGuigan says: “Brian is still a director. He still sends me a list of things I am doing wrong – and that is considerable.” 

Asked about who is going to fill the shoes of past Australian legends, McGuigan cites Chester Osborn at d’Arenberg in McLaren Vale – he of the curly blond mane. McGuigan quips: “He may look as though he needs to tuck in his shirt and get a haircut but when you taste the wine, you know he can do it. He has substance and can deliver. We [Australia] need more of these guys.

“We need guys who make a difference, who recognise a style and can understand and take an opportunity. People who can go back and make it happen. People who have the vision and the ability to make it happen and deliver,” he says.

McGuigan, both the company and the man, are looking at the increasing popularity of lower-alcohol wines. So far McGuigan says he has not been impressed with many of the examples. The company has a carbonated Moscato brand, Vinnie, which McGuigan says delivers on aromatics.

But the next stage for the company is the installation of a new generation spinning cone column which will strip out the alcohol at 40°C rather than at 60°, which will mean fresher, more aromatic and more fruit forward wines.

Trials start this month and McGuigan is hoping to have a new white wine next year. He admits getting it right for a 5.5% abv red wine is more challenging.

“The wine has to be the hero. We have to get the production right.”

McGuigan says their US wines are going well as more Americans seem to be drinking more wine. With some 311 million people, if the population drinks one litre more wine per head, well that’s a lot a wine.

The Australian dollar continues to cause a problem but McGuigan says the Australian wine industry is in good shape. It has kept its costs down and now needs to get back to building brands and gaining distribution.

Secret of success

Asked what the secret of McGuigan’s success is, he says: “Build a brand, get out of cheap bulk wine business, overdeliver at the price point. That is the trick.”

He admits the company sells a lot of wine to the US but not branded. It also sells to China but it is traded. “There is no brand solution as yet. We have to get in with the SOE (state owned enterprise). There is no point in having 600 people in China. We need distribution and we are working on it.”

The UK remains important and McGuigan wines are in most of the major multiple retailers. McGuigan says there is still a lot of volume and there have been a lot of negatives but there are also opportunities.

After a meteoric rise and near-charmed progression, Brand Australia has had a rocky time in recent years. McGuigan admits there was over-optimism and that led to Australian having too many grapes – at the same time as the world having too many grapes. 

The strengthening Australian dollar has exacerbated progress and then there have been all the takeovers and mergers. Along the way, Australia has lost a lot of its personalities.

But McGuigan is adamant: “All Australian wine is quality. It started with easy-to-drink entry-level wines but we have then started looking for refinement and sophistication.” 

Looking for quality at every price plus the opportunities offered by the increasing demand for lower alcohol wines. That is where the world’s greatest winemaker is at the moment. 

This is not a man resting on his laurels. Neil McGuigan is trying to lead his troops to the promised land. Not milk and honey, though. More like wine and money.

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