Above: Taylors Wines managing director and winemaker Mitchell Taylor.
ONCE UPON A time there was this strange man from the east who was being quietly mocked the length and breadth of the Clare Valley.
He had snapped up 185ha at the southern end of the valley in 1969 and incredibly, nay, unbelievably, began planting masses of Cabernet Sauvignon (and a little bit of Shiraz as well).
“Doesn’t he know you can’t make good fortified wines out of Cab Sauv?” the locals joked with each other.
Remarkably the 60-something-year-old knew exactly that.
He’d just neglected to mention he had a vision about where the wine industry was going – and the role he wanted to play in it.
And his vines were going to be the basis of a table wine dynasty that would quickly rise to produce some of the world’s finest wines.
At which point the quiet mocking turned into open laughter.
The local yokels obviously had no real measure of Bill Taylor, whose business would become Taylors Wines and would grow faster than anyone realised as his vineyards began churning out vintage after vintage of spectacular, award-winning wines.
Today grandson Mitchell is a significant player in the Australian wine industry and no-one is laughing at the Taylors anymore.
While Taylor did not come out and say it, the release of what he describes as the “best wine we have created as a wine family” might also have just the slightest whiff of ‘up yours’ to those who had laughed at the old man who started it all.
Labelled The Visionary, Taylor described it as a tribute to the grandfather he learnt so much from and a man who helped revolutionise the Australian wine industry.
“Not bad for a Sydney hotelier who knew more about selling beer than making wine,” Taylor said.
“The Visionary has only been produced in an extremely limited volume from an exceptional vintage and represents the utmost refinement of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape,” he said.
“At the moment it is a one-off from our 2009 vintage but if we ever have a truly exceptional vintage then we will do it again – 2010 might be one, 2011 certainly won’t.”
When it comes to his grandfather Taylor clearly wears his heart on his sleeve.
He might now be at the helm of 750ha in the Clare Valley, with contract vineyards in key areas around the state, but his memories of Bill Taylor are still vivid and still touching.
“My grandfather was originally a man from the land and he told me if we were going back to the land then one of the first things we had to do was dig a dam,” he said.
“While the work was being done, digging into that rich terra rossa soil, he unearthed all these fossilised seahorses and turned them into the symbol on our logo – the three seahorses for the three generations there when the business began.
“And we’ve still got his dam.”
Standing on the shoulders of that grand old man, Taylor and the rest of his family circa 2013 have been on a bit of a high apart from releasing The Visionary.
They have just won the Warren Winiarski Trophy for Cabernet Sauvignon with their 2010 St Andrews vintage at the London International Wine and Spirits competition.
The vintage that might just qualify for the next The Visionary.
The London event is one of the world’s most prestigious wine competitions and annually pulls 10,000-plus entries from around the globe.
Even better it was the second win in eight years, the first in 2005 with the 2001 St Andrews Cabernet Sauvignon.
“It’s a funny game. With our first vintage in 1973 our Cabernet won gold at every major state show and capped it all with the Montgomery Medal at the Royal Adelaide,” Taylor said.
“We all thought this was a pretty easy business to be in but I have stood alongside my dad and seen him reduced almost to tears as the chainsaws went through row after row of Cabernet vines because we had vintage after vintage we just couldn’t sell.
“I think one of the most impressive lessons I learnt from him was his belief that we are in a fashion industry, and tastes can turn pretty fast.
“Which is why we have 12 varieties in our vineyards today instead of the original two.”
In another masterstroke Taylor’s grandfather was one of the first in Clare to plant Chardonnay, in their Promised Land vineyard.
“When we, and other Australian winemakers, hit the export market with Chardonnay we took the world by storm and opened big opportunities into which our reds poured,” Taylor said.
These days, however, the storm seems to have run out of puff.
Pounded by the sustained surge of the Australian dollar, the emergence of cheap wines from Chile, Argentina and South Africa and what Taylor describes as being wrongly criticised by global media about the quality of Australian wine.
Which is why he was a co-founder of Australia’s First Families of Wine, which has brought together 12 wineries representing 1200 years of winemaking experience.
“The gatekeepers in certain export markets only wanted us to provide entry-level products,” Taylor said.
“But we know Australian wine has a lot of positive stories to tell and that’s what AFFW is doing,” he said.
“We also produced the book Heart and Soul which was a surprise success. With a chapter devoted to each of the 12 members, its first run sold more than 10,000 copies and it has now also been reproduced in Mandarin.”
Taylor also said his family knew better than to flog a dead horse – a reflection on his family’s rural roots.
“When things went belly up and the dollar was killing us we made a strategic decision to get out of the US market. Now things are turning we are about to go back, but it will be a considered relaunch with a good distribution partner.
“And yes, everyone has China on their lips and while we have been there 15 years with a Chinese partner it has been a slow process to build our brand.
“But a recent trip with AFFW was a major success – we had 17 tastings in seven days and attracted great media and industry attention with our premium wines.
“China is a very new market, for us and the Chinese, and to succeed there, and anywhere else overseas, we have to get back to the Australian wine story.
“AFFW resonates with the Chinese – they respect a culture, a history and family and we offer the lot.
“At Taylor we don’t just want to produce the best value wines, we want to produce the best wines.”
Contact: Mitchell Taylor. Phone: 61 2 8585 3519. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.