Warren Randall has made a habit of acquiring and reviving historic SA wine brands and properties.
While his first winery purchase was Tinlins in McLaren Vale in 1993 (with two business partners), he is perhaps best known for bringing the Barossa’s Seppeltsfield winery back to life – culminating in last year’s best cellar door in the world award.
With that bow added to his string, there’s been no wasting time since.
Last September, Mr Randall bought out his partners in Tinlin Wines – McLaren Vale’s biggest vineyard owners, ever.
Six months later, in March this year, he bought the 40-hectare, 30,000-tonne winery Rycroft in the same region.
“So that’s two significant acquisitions in the space of six months,” he said.
“The biggest vineyard owner, then the biggest winery in McLaren Vale.”
In May, Seppeltsfield announced the opening of a $75 million chateau – Chateau Seppeltsfield Minquan – in China in conjunction with Minquan Jiuding Wine Company Ltd, the first time an Australian winemaker has committed capital to the Chinese market.
And just last week, news broke of Mr Randall’s expansion to the Clare Valley – the acquisition of the historic Quelltaler Estate at Watervale.
This includes about 365ha of proprietary vineyard and lease arrangements in Watervale and Polish Hill, and the existing 1000t Quelltaler winery.
While details on the transaction remain confidential – Mr Randall said he essentially ‘swapped’ his Sunraysia vineyards, Duxton, to purchase Quelltaler – it includes the transfer of the original Quelltaler trademark to Seppeltsfield.
“Now we can enjoy the next upwards rise of the wine industry,” Mr Randall said.
There are several driving factors behind Mr Randall’s property and brand revival strategy.
The acquisition of these historic SA wine properties and linking them to their original brands is a major motivation.
“Seppeltsfield (established 1851) has had a rejuvenation,” he said
“It used to be the jewel of the Barossa Valley … that got a bit tarnished for awhile, we’ve polished her up and I think you’d now say she’s regarded that way again.
“Ryecroft (1888) as a Mclaren Vale brand got lost in the corporate mix; our intention is to raise Ryecroft again – a lot of history has been lost.
“It’s a matter of resurrecting these old SA wine brands; it’s important for me when I buy these (properties) to own the wine brand (too).”
Such is the case for Quelltaler, which Mr Randall will also revive.
He said the premiumisation of Australian wine in recent years provided a suitable background to his plans.
“After 15 years of difficult times – a ‘double down’ – the Australian wine industry is on the rise again, mainly due to the emergence of China as a strong new market for Australian wine,” he said.
“The acquisition of premium viticultural and winemaking assets at this time will support the Seppeltsfield group’s desire to increase its market share in an already rising market.”
He said the premiumisation of the Australian wine brand put it at an attractive price point.
“SA produces about 85 per cent of Australia’s premium wine so clearly, SA is the place to be – and you can’t get much better areas than McLaren Vale, Clare Valley and Barossa Valley,” he said.
“I’m only generation one – a lot of what I’m doing is by instinct and gut feel, I hope the next generation takes that on.”
Creating a masterpiece
The revitalisation of Seppeltsfield was a major undertaking.
At Ryecroft, Mr Randall said the winery was “a bit agricultural”.
“I’ve got some beautiful old photographs of the winery in the 1890s – I want to resurrect it to that, to the scale it was and the building materials (it used),” he said.
He plans to pull down the new buildings and expose the old winery within.
“Then we’ll landscape it out to Ingoldby Road like at Seppeltsfield, in keeping with the original photographs.”
Quelltaler wasn’t in such a state of disrepair, but would still benefit from upgrades.
“With Quelltaler we won’t need to do as much work as Seppeltsfield and Ryecroft; we don’t need to do a lot of landscaping,” Mr Randall said.
He was looking forward to getting into the small gravity flow winery with 10 old red fermenters.
The resurrection of the Quelltaler brand will join the Seppeltsfield and Ryecroft brands.
“The brands will be at different price points,” he said.
“Seppeltsfield is the master/lead brand; I’m not yet sure how the others will follow.”
While the Chinese chateau is designated to filter the Seppeltsfiled brand into these markets, Ryecroft and Quelltaler will also follow eventually.
Seppeltsfield will release a Barossa Valley table wine range in 2018, and later in the year, Mr Randall said the Ryecroft McLaren Vale brand would be released nationally.
With the pace things move in Warren Randall’s world, the revived Quelltaler brand might not be too far behind.
Treasury Wine Estates will retain ownership of the Annie’s Lane brand, which will continue to be made and promoted within the group’s portfolio.
The cellar door site in Watervale will be closed for the time being while strategic planning continues for its future usage.
The sale settlement is scheduled for November 30, 2017.
Staff at Quelltaler Estate were informed last Thursday that their roles at the TWE-owned property would be made redundant, effective November 30.
A spokesperson for TWE said the 20 employees were a mixture of full-time, part-time and casual cellar door and vineyard roles.
“Some are taking redundancies, but some have expressed an interest in exploring other roles within the (TWE) business, which they will explore in coming weeks with TWE’s support,” a spokesperson told the Argus on Friday.
Given TWE’s vast interests in the South Australian wine industry, the spokesperson said there may be opportunities in close proximity – such as the Barossa – which would suit Annie’s Lane employees.
Wine has not been produced at the Quelltaler winery for a couple of decades now.
TWE’s spokesperson said Annie’s Lane wines were produced in the Barossa and the brand was managed as its own entity.
“It is important to note that the sale excludes the Annie’s Lane brand, an iconic brand within TWE’s Australian wine portfolio, which will continue to be owned and made locally.”
A further statement said the transaction included a long-term bulk wine supply agreement, whereby TWE will purchase luxury wine produced from the estate’s vineyards in support of its supply strategy, and continuing its association with the Clare Valley region.
Mr Randall said the “deal was no staff”, but that they were being looked after by TWE.
However, he had been approached by some employees seeking to continue at Quelltaler.
“If they fit the Seppeltsfield model we could well put them on.”
He said there were interviews scheduled with several former Quelltaler employees who had approached Seppeltsfield directly.
Prior to the formation of the Annie’s Lane brand, the site was known as Quelltaler Estate with a history in the Clare Valley dating back to 1851, mirroring that of Seppeltsfield Barossa.
It was noted in the 1900s for fortified wine and brandy production, as well as ‘Rhine Rieslings’ and ‘Hock’ under the ownership of H. Buring & Sobels.
It was also owned for a period by French company Remy Martin in the 1980s, before being sold to Wolf Blass in 1987, eventually merging into Southcorp, Foster’s and now, Treasury Wine Estates.
In recent years it has hosted the a day on the green festival series.