The best advice Lisa McGuigan says she has been given in business is to dare to be different and not worry about what other people say. If you take a look at the career of the fourth generation Hunter Valley winemaker, it is clear that’s what she’s been doing from the start.
Whether it was initially eschewing her heritage to forge her own path in new industries, or turning wine making conventions on their head by focusing as much on the packaging as she did on the product, Lisa has always done things her own way, with great success.
“I never grew up thinking that we were renowned, just hard working. My family has always been passionate and committed to the region and the wine,” Lisa said.
“My first memory was at the age of nine tasting wine from tank to tank with my father Brian at Wyndham Estate Winery. From recollection, my first taste was 1976 TR2 white.
“But I was always pressured to join the wine industry. In fact, when I left school and enrolled in visual arts, my father sent me to a Swiss hospitality finishing school to knock some sense into me.
“After 12 months I had nothing on my mind but the hotel industry - that was when I entered my Hotel Management Studies.”
For Lisa, who also trained as a chef, hospitality felt like the perfect fit, and not completely outside the parameters of her family’s own experiences.
“My mum Fay actually opened one of the first restaurants attached to a winery in the Hunter. My sister, Vanessa and I worked in the kitchen for pocket money every weekend,” she said.
“Also, having spent 12 months in Switzerland and starting hotel management studies in a country where everything is about service, I felt like I had found myself.”
Lisa spent the next ten years forging her path in hospitality, working in five-star hotels and restaurants across Australia. But with such strong viticultural roots in her blood, it was not
surprising that her career eventually became entwined in the wine industry.
“I’d worked in five-star for ten years. One of my roles at The Sydney Renaissance Hotel was curating the wine list,” she said.
“Over several years seeing all the (wine) labels that came across my desk, I came to the view that there was something missing.
“I saw an opportunity for a brand that had all the components that wine must have plus something new… a hot label design.
“I started to imagine the ultimate brand coming across my desk. I visualised it all, from the sales rep walking through the door to the price list and portfolio they leave behind. I foresaw everything that I wanted and wasn’t getting. That was how I modelled my first wine brand that I
launched in 1996.”
That brand was originally called Hermitage Road, although it was later renamed Tempus Two following a ban on the use of the term ‘Hermitage’ outside of its French origins.
Lisa produced her first wine in 1997 after leasing a small space in one of the wineries located on Hermitage Road owned by her father’s company McGuigan Wines (which later grew into the publicly listed company known as Australian Vintage Limited).
Tempus Two was always destined to be a bold venture, from the striking pewter and copper labels hand-applied to every bottle, to Lisa’s vision to create a bespoke $12 million cellar door and winery for the brand, complete with its own amphitheatre.
“I wanted something that would make people say ‘wow, what is that?” Lisa said.
“Good wines traditionally had conservative looking packaging; at the time people tended to attack wines that looked good too.
"I had to take my customers on a journey, making sure they had opportunities to taste the wine so they could realise for themselves that our product didn’t just look great, but tasted great too.
“Tempus Two launched in the UK in its fifth year. That’s when I thought it was time to open a winery and cellar door in the Hunter Valley to be the playground for the brand.
“One night I was at a dinner party with my father and Bill Roche was there. I was telling Bill what I had in mind for the cellar door and winery, which we had planned to build in Pokolbin. He asked me how much money I needed to realise my vision, I told him $12 million, and he wrote me a cheque for $6 million on the spot. It’s amazing to have that vote of confidence.
”The cellar door was sold to the Roche Group by AWL in 2009 and in 2015 was renamed Roche Estate.By that time Lisa had moved on from Tempus Two following a change in AVL management, with her next career move seeing her buy two retail wine stores in Sydney, which she renamed Lisa’s Wine Vaults.But that was far from the end of Lisa’s wine making ventures.In 2011 she launched Lisa McGuigan Wines, once again fusing exceptional quality wine with eye-catching packaging.
The wine is produced at a shared winery in the Hunter Valley, however, grapes are sourced from the most reliable and renowned terroir allover Australia and internationally for use in Lisa’s three different collections.The Silver Collection is made up of everyday drinking wines including a Victorian Pinot Grigio, Hunter Valley ‘Wilde Thing’ Semillon and Barossa Shiraz.
The Blaec Collection presents wines from across the globe, with a Sauvignon Blanc from the Waipara, New Zealand,Grüner Blanc from Hungary and Silver Moscato from South Australia.The Platinum Collection is the top of the portfolio, representing Lisa’s favourite premium varietals. It includes a Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, two Pinot Noirs and a Maximum Shiraz.
Lisa will launch her two newest wines and discuss her thoughts on the region’s 2018 vintage this month as part of the Hunter Valley Wine and Food Festival, appearing at the By the Fireside Winemaker’s Dinner at Hunter Resort on Saturday, June 16.
“This year has to be one of my favourite vintages in the Hunter since I started Lisa McGuigan Wines,” Lisa said.
“There are only two wines that I have finished from this vintage,but they are both pretty exciting. Firstly, my wild fermented Semillon, I’m reinvigorating my Semillon style. The second exciting wine is from my Dad’s vineyard, he offered to sell me his Gruner veltliner fruit at a good price – he actually charges me more – this wine is in the bottle and already selling.
“In regards to the region generally it was a good vintage all round,and the reds will be something to look forward to.”
Tickets for the By the Fireside Winemaker’s Dinner are still available and can be purchased via www.hunterresort.com.au/fireside ■