Although he had secret insecurities deeper than most of us, McLean was a jolly soul. He was the big fella with the neat beard - beards were a rarity then - and the gravelly voice; a champion backslapper and hander-out of cigars.
And pourer of Pol Roger, which Orlando distributed. McLean called Pol "PR," as in "I'm off to do some PR," and in those days of naive wine industry references to terrorist organisations, we called his burgeoning belly the Pol Pot. He was Pol Pot. From the PLO.
It was nearly impossible to attend a glitterati show of any sort in Sydney without Pol Pot shoving a glass of PR in your hand. I don't recall much mention of Jacob's Creek.
Nevertheless, Adelaide was taking control from Sydney. Adelaide was beginning to realise it was a wine town.
The cocky Brian Croser was on the ascendancy in those early 'eighties. Like Burge and Wilson and Tim Knappstein, he promoted himself as a young winemaker, but better than the rest. Almost annoyed that he wasn't part of the family, he'd left Hardy's, done a stint as an academic setting up a wine course at Wagga Wagga and established Petaluma with the help of Len Evans, the former Mount Isa Mines storeman who'd magically transformed himself into a wine buff restaurateur at the infamous Bulletin Place on Circular Quay.
By the time I got to compare these Rieslings at barr-Eden, it was obvious that their brave, foolhardy vineyard atop Mengler's Hill was everything the McLeans dreamed it could be ... photo Philip White
Having just bought the Bridgewater Mill, without really knowing what to do with it other than awkardly squeeze a posh restaurant and fizz factory into what Greg Trott thought may be a good little brewery for his in-laws, the Johnstons, Evans and Croser made McLean PR and marketing boss of Petaluma. Evans called McLean Sir Lunchalot.
They moved McLean, his wife Wilma and their kids Adam and Sarah to a cottage on a small farm with a vineyard in Aldgate Valley in the South Mount Lofty Ranges. They put him in a Range Rover; he replaced the blazer and slacks with RM Williams' moleskines, a Drizabone and Akubra. The new era of 'smart country' wine fashion began.
This destruction had, to a degree, been instigated by the likes of Croser, who preached as if the Barossa had no future: if you believed him, as the Labor Party obviously did, old-fashioned, warm climate winemaking was a thing of the past. Dead and gone. Lke the whole goddam Barossa. Along with its unfashionable Shiraz. As for Grenache? Cinsault? Carignan? Mataro? Pull 'em out!
Maggie Beer was more famous in London than she was in South Australia, thanks to McLean. Her daughters were still in the habit of ordering take-away pizzas which upon delivery were paraded through their own mum's restaurant and noisily devoured while the famous dregs of McLean's Wednesday Table wiped their lips and decanted themselves out the door.
McLean claimed that as he left the Hyatt Hotel elevator after doing the closing sale deal with Lion Nathan boss Gordon Cairns in 2003, he bumped into Croser who was following him up, having just stretched Petaluma to bursting point by buying Mitchelton, Knappstein and Stonier.
All these companies, and most of Australia's breweries and good cheese factories are now part of the leviathan Japanese transnational, Kirin.
To read the interview in full, click People of Wine, Milton Wordley's brand new blog.