“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





03 July 2015


The Jericho family after dinner at  Mum and Dad's: Andrew (left) and Kim, standing; Neil, Kaye, Steve and Sally, seated ... photos Philip White
Cool wines from a hot family:
how to start a new wine company
in a time of upheaval and chaos

David Wynn, for decades the driver of the great family wine company, hired Melbourne winewriter Walter James to write the annual Wynn Winegrowers' Diary, 1970 edition.

Reading it, and remembering fondly my mentor David, who died in 1995, I can hear their conversation as they discussed the nature of making money.

The successful business operator "will arouse the admiration, and the envy, of a vast army of men who have had similar aims," James wrote. Then he added a critical non sequitur:

"Should you set out not to make money but to make something really worthwhile in itself, your success will with equal certainty be rewarded with the admiration, and the goodwill, of men who really matter - men of category."

This came to mind last week as I dined at home with the Jericho family.

In the two years since they launched their new wine company, this family has proven that in the chaos of an overcrowded wine world it is still possible to release a new product which arouses envy, admiration and most importantly, goodwill amongst many.

They have done this with a suite of wines which are of outstanding quality, backed by a good honest news story about hard work and co-operative skill.

The packaging is fashionable but timeless; the prices beautifully modest.

I first encountered Neil Jericho at Brown Brothers' Milawa winery in the mid-'eighties. In those years there was a buzz about Browns. They were reputed to run the most profitable cellar door in Australia, offering a vast array of experimental wines of the sorts of varieties that are only now becoming commonplace.

Amongst other winemaking roles, Neil was in charge of what was called the Kindergarten Winery, which was a radical new installation where small batches of wine could be given the most forensic attention.

He'd jumped the fence from his previous role, making much more rustic types of wine at Campbell's Rutherglen on the hotter river flats to the north.

The Jericho family swimming hole in the old gold pit at Eldorado, up in Milaway/Beechworth territory ... below is the old cork oak the kids played in

The first Australian Jerichos arrived in Port Adelaide from Germany in 1854. Neil grew up in the South Australian Riverland and went off to Roseworthy to study winemaking. He was in the first class to undertake the new marketing course.

After Brown Brothers he was chief winemaker at Taylors of Clare for 16 years.

He met his wife Kaye at school in year 11. "Kaye's spent over thirty years being a vintage widow; raising the three kids," he says. "And now here we are, finally running a family business."

Family business indeed.

"All our kids grew up working hard during their school and uni holidays," Neil said, "doing a lot of vineyard work: pruning, trellising and general vineyard maintenance. They all know their vineyard management."

Daughter Sally Pavic now does all the administration. She has marketing and accounting degrees from the University South Australia and worked for a time on export compliance at Wine Australia. With her husband Steve, a builder who races motorcycles, she has three kids under six.

"Steve is passionate about his work and sport," Neil says. "He doesn't have a role in the wine business but loves his food and his wine. He's a good critic of our wines."

As is son Kim, who cooked us a brilliant dinner. He's worked vintages at Killikanoon in Clare and Sumac Ridge in Canada but studied graphic design at UniSA and now runs a successful design business. With the keen input of the rest he  developed the distinctive Jericho logo and branding.

While it's easy to suggest references to, dare I suggest Penfolds and Coca Cola, that happy Jericho brand is more a clever mixture of the euphoric fonts of the federation era: think Bests Great Western, Wendouree and May Gibbs' Gumnut Babies. With its enviable dash of humour and carefree confidence, it's the sort of logo you can recognise on a table right across the other side of the street. Through an ice bucket.

"Restaurateurs seem to like having it on their tables," Kim said. "People like looking at it. It's very easy to recognise. And as you say, it looks pretty cool, but it's not modern enough to go out of date."

That logo didn't come easily. It's certainly not another of those Mum and Dad get the biro out for a bit of design on the kitchen table after dinner jobs. He showed me page after page of trials, months of work showing gradual increments of evolution as this Virgo-rich tribe offered their advice.

Similarly, the entire family has input into the winemaking, which is otherwise the territory of Neil and Andrew, who works full-time now as winemaker at Maxwell Wines after years at Mollydooker and a vintage in China.

They select distinguished parcels of fruit from vineyards they respect around McLaren Vale and through the Adelaide Hills and make the wine at their mate  Goe de Fabio's beautifully-equipped winery at McLaren Flat.

"We have a great test for every wine we make," Neil says, laughing about being a textbook Virgo, "with three very precise objectives.

"First, our wines must show distinct varietal and fruit expression. Second, they must be in balance: All the characters that make up the wine: fruit, oak, tannin  (for red wine), acidity, extraction and alcohol etc etc should all be in balance with not one ’spike’ sticking out.

"Third? Drinkability. Get the first two right and you have drinkability: the structure and the texture of the wine produces a lovely product that we all like to drink."

Amen to that. From their very first release these wines have immediately impressed me with their honest vivacity and purity: not one has failed to earn a glowing review on these pages.

We mulled over the nature of family wine companies, how some disappear while others grow so huge as to become almost meaningless.

Neil, after all, has worked for three of them: all booming still. One doubts, however, that any of those started out with the levels of vision, confidence, care, and keen respect of the customer that these Jerichos show.

"There's always the danger of not having a good succession plan," Neil said.

"Some can't seem able to let other family members into the company - there's no consideration of each member's level of skill. Then, sometimes there's simply not enough industry knowledge. One day the family firm finds it did not have the skills to run a successful business.

"And then, of course, some become so very successful that they're offered a great deal of money to sell out."

There's no talk of either travesty at the Jericho table. Rather, a slightly feverish, sightly tentative buzz of pride at their achievement and the potential of their future.

Which brings me back to David Wynn, and his conversation with that crusty old doyen, Walter James.

Their conclusion pretty well summarises far too many of the ill-conceived, half-hearted brands that clutter today's shelves:

"In some fields of productive endeavour, of course ... it is only a little sad that so many men of ability as they reach for success and meet it are beguiled into allowing the means to submerge the aim and in the end are content to do, adequately enough, no more than a hundred others around them are doing equally well. Their obituaries describe these people as successful businessmen and they pass promptly into oblivion."

You won't see any of that going down with this new Jericho family endeavour.

This lot is here to stay. They're building something which is "really worthwhile in itself."

Drink up.
Another two great wine families here: David Wynn, left, with his brilliant sparkling winemakers Hurtle and his son Norm Walker. Norm's son, Nick carries the Walker family standard high at the formidable O'Leary Walker in Clare. Hurtle was trained by the French master, Edmund Mazure. Wynn's legendary Oven's Valley Burgundy came from Milawa territory ... everything goes round and round


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