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Dynasty back in the family

FAMILY TIES: Chief winemaker at McWilliam’s, Jim Chatto (left) and Hunter winemaker Adrian Sparks, sample the innovative B-Side wines.THE Times They Are A-changin’ probably applies more today than it did 52 years ago when Bob Dylan penned the words and sang the song.
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It is certainly true of the Australian wine industry and to one of its cornerstones, the 139-year-old McWilliam’s family wine company.

In 1993, when South Africa-born wine executive Kevin McLintock was appointed CEO of McWilliam’s, he was the first non-McWilliam to hold the position.

Kevin’s 12-year stint was followed by five-year terms of non-family CEOs George Wahby and Rob Blackwell.

Next July, however, Rob Blackwell – a former key executive with Coca Cola Amatil and Ticketek – will step down as McWilliam’s CEO and be succeeded by Jeff McWilliam, who has been the company’s non-executive chairman since November 2013.

Jeff is a fifth-generation family member and is the great-great grandson of family patriarch Samuel McWilliam, who planted the first McWilliam’s wine grapes at the NSW Murray River town of Corowa in 1877.

An accountant by profession, Jeff has had a career in property investment and development and his move into the McWilliam’s CEO’s seat caps a decade of enormous change.

In 2007, McWilliam’s bought the Margaret River Evans and Tate brands, vineyards, wine stocks and cellar door and in 2012 it took a stake in the former Evans and Tate winery.

In 2013 it recruited Jim Chatto, one of Australia’s most skilful and innovative winemakers and sought-after wine judges, as its chief winemaker.

Late last year McWilliam’s sold its Brand’s of Coonawarra subsidiary, which it had bought in 1994, to Yenda-based Casella Family Brands, maker of the hugely successful Yellowtail wines.The sale of Brand’s was part of a strategy to focus on the McWilliam’s, Hunter Valley Mount Pleasant and Evans and Tate core brands.

Jim Chattois based at Mount Pleasant and in charge of winemaking at that iconic Marrowbone Rd, Pokolbin, operation as well as McWilliam’s Australia-wide portfolio.

Mount Pleasant estate, on which the first vines were planted in 1880, has a portfolio that embraces the $20 entry-level Philip shiraz and Elizabeth semillon wines up to the flagship Lovedale semillons and Maurice O’Shea shiraz wines.

Jim also has an added spirit of adventure with the new B-Side label featuring the off-dry LS8 Semillon and theCF13 Dry Red, a blend of shiraz and the rare montils white variety.

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