Wine | Chinese businessman takes reins at Rymill | John Lewis

SKILLED: Rymill Coonawarra winemakers, Sandrine Gimon (senior winemaker), Josh Clementson and Federico Zaina.
SKILLED: Rymill Coonawarra winemakers, Sandrine Gimon (senior winemaker), Josh Clementson and Federico Zaina.

THE 2017 vintage is winding up at Coonawarra’s prestigious Rymill operation and for the first time in 49 years a Rymill hasn’t presided over it.

That’s because last year the Rymills sold their brand, 144 hectares of prized terra rossa vineyard and showplace winery and cellar door to the family company of Chinese businessman Gang Ye. 

The group has global interests in tourism, hospitality, shipping, petroleum and ports and Mr Ye said he was excited at extending the Gang Ye Australian investments into wine. Working with the existing Rymill management and winemaking team, his company aimed to grow the brand in international markets, particularly in China.

Rymill has special cachet because of its direct family links with Coonawarra’s founder John Riddoch, who planted the first wine grapes in 1891 and is the great-great grandfather of Rymill managing director, John Rymill.

After John Riddoch's death in 1901, his family didn’t seek to carry on the grand ventures that saw the planting of numerous Coonawarra vineyards and the building of the handsome stone winery that is now the nerve centre and trademark of Wynns Coonawarra Estate. During the early 1900s the Riddoch wine empire was split up and sold off by the estate's executors. One Riddoch, however, John's daughter Mary, stayed at Coonawarra, marrying grazier Robert Rymill in 1903. The couple took up residence on Robert's Old Penola Station, about three kilometres from Penola.

Old Penola later passed to their son, John Riddoch Rymill, who had won fame in his early life as a polar explorer, then in 1964 to John Riddoch's great grandson, Peter Riddoch Rymill and his wife Judy, who used the land mainly for cattle grazing. In 1868, however, they revived the Riddoch link with wine by planting a small vineyard.

They upped their commitment to wine in 1972 by buying and establishing a vineyard on land that had once been part of the 162,000-hectare Riddoch Run estate, on which John Riddoch had planted his first vines.

Under the control Peter and Judy and their son John, Rymill earned a fine reputation – which has been enhanced in the past 12 years by French-born senior winemaker Sandrine Gimon and her team of Josh Clementson (winemaker and vineyard manager) and Argentinean-born Federico Zaina. 

Sandrine trained at the Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne house and made wine in Romania and in France’s Bordeaux, Languedoc Roussillon and Pomerol areas before coming to Australia to work in the Swan Valley and in 2005 to Rymill. She lives in Penola with her husband and two sons.