Australia's First Families of Wine: Bruce Tyrell interview

Published by Sally on November 9, 2009

Click here for my earlier piece about the group.

Two members of the newly-formed Australia’s First Families of Wine (AFFW) have been in the UK creating awareness for the new group of family-owned Aussie wine producers.  There has been a decent amount of interest among the press, and I took my slot and had a chat with Bruce Tyrell, of Tyrell’s Wines. Robert Hill-Smith of Yalumba was off elsewhere.

Tyrrell Family

Tyrrell Family

Bruce hit the nail on the head when he said the world has been waiting for some good news to come out of Australia. It’s been doom and gloom for Australia for a while: glut and prolonged drought at the same time, exports dropping in key markets, the big companies offloading Aussie assets, other companies going to the wall etc. 

The new AFFW project has a touchy-feely aspect where members of the owning families will be on the road to promote their wines, to promote Aussie regionality and wines with personality. Tyrell said: “After the last twelve months, a lot of people don’t trust the big organisations, but a family operation is easier for consumers to get hold of, to hang onto, and trust what they say.” 

One of the criteria for membership of this family of families is having two generations working the farm.  Tyrell said: “the younger generation will be getting into marketplace and doing what we did 25 years ago.” And he added “If we bring the next generation together we’ll have been successful“.  Many members of the senior generation are evidently good friends as well as competitors.

The organisation has been a while in the making, with the first discussions taking place in 2005.  And after their first formal meeting at the back end of 2006, Tyrell said: “the wineries sort of fell into place, though not everyone who was invited wanted to join.” Twelve would seem to be the perfect vinous number, but he said it’s not locked into, so there could be more members. Given the positive reception the group has had, one can imagine the odd winery regretting their decision to decline the invitation.

The national organisation that promotes Australian wine – Wine Australia – already has a strategy to promote what it calls ‘regional heroes’. This is exactly the place where some of the wines of the AFFW fit.  Tyrell was keen to emphasise that the families are committed to Wine Australia, but “wanted to add to it; to do more things at the better end of Australian wine. We want to expand the coverage, especially of regional heroes, so we can get a better share of that market.”

So, while some of wineries are really quite sizeable, indeed five of them are in the top 20 biggest wineries in Australia, Tyrell iterated the focus will be on regional styles of wine, as well as each family’s icon wines.  These latter he loosely defined as “wines that have a long term show record, they’re on the Langton’s list; wines that are recognised in the trade and market as icon wines.

“It either is or it isn’t.”  he said.  Which makes sense in a way – standout examples include his own Tyrell’s Vat 1 Hunter Semillon, as well as Henschke’s Hill of Grace, McWilliams’ Mount Pleasant Lovedale Semillon and De Bortoli’s Noble One. And a joining criterion is having 20 years of icon wines available for tasting.

The group is next meeting at the end of November to finalise plans for 2010, with the first big splash likely to be at the London Wine Trade Fair (trade only) in May.  As part of the campaign, Tyrell said to expect some long verticals, though he didn’t say if trade, consumers or both would benefit.

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