Ben Ean estate sale a win for Hunter wine heritage

THE Hunter Valley’s matchless wine heritage becomes more secure this month as the 147-year-old Ben Ean estate at Pokolbin passes into the ownership of Brian McGuigan and Colin Peterson. The $5 million to $8 million sale of the former asset of the Lindeman’s arm of ASX-listed Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) was announced last week.

Mr McGuigan is the former CEO and founder of Wyndham Estate Wines and what is now Australian Vintage Ltd, and Colin Peterson is the proprietor of the Petersons, Savannah and Peterson House Sparkling wine operations and owns vineyards in the Hunter, Mudgee and Armidale and the Hunter Bottling Co, which packages a major share of Hunter wine and olive oil output.

The sale gives the Mr McGuigan and Mr Peterson ownership of the Ben Ean winery building, vineyard, cellar door, function centre and restaurants. It also gives them the right to use the Ben Ean name on the site, but not as a wine brand.

Ben Ean is pivotal to Lindeman’s place as Australia’s oldest continuous wine producer – based on founder Dr Henry John Lindeman’s 1843 planting the first Lindeman vines on the Cawarra property at East Gresford. This was a year before Penfolds winemaking was begun by Dr Christopher Penfold on the Magill Estate in the foothills of South Australia’s Mount Lofty Ranges

Lindeman’s operational hub shifted from East Gresford in 1912 when Dr Lindeman’s three sons bought Ben Ean from the family of early settler John McDonald, who had established the Pokolbin vineyard and winery in 1870.

Lindeman’s made some of Australia’s most celebrated wines at Ben Ean. Wine guru James Halliday rated the Lindeman’s 1960 Bin 1616 and the 1968 Bin 3455 as its greatest white wines and among the all-time best Australian whites. The Hunter shiraz-based Lindeman’s 1965 Bin 3110 Burgundy, he declared, was “absolute perfection”.

As Lindeman’s passed out of family control and underwent numerous ownership changes, it drifted away from its Hunter homeland to a new centre of gravity at the giant Karadoc winery on the Murray River and in the exciting South Australian vineyard areas of Coonawarra, Padthaway and Limestone Coast.

With the exception of Ben Ean, Hunter vineyards were sold off, the winery closed and only a token amount of Hunter wine was produced.

The Ben Ean site’s future has been clouded since September last year when TWE closed the cellar door and 1843 Harvest Café, declaring that the move was to allow a “significant upgrade of both the look and feel of the interior, as well as the tourism facilities and attractions” and continued to operate the Ben Ean function centre.

In announcing last week’s Ben Ean deal, TWE’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand, Angus McPherson, said the company had decided to sell “for the benefit of the community and the broader NSW wine industry”.

Although the McGuigan-Peterson partnership will be free to call the iconic site Ben Ean, Mr McPherson said the sale would not affect TWE’s ownership, production and marketing of the Lindeman’s brand.

Mr McGuigan said this week that he and Mr Peterson would spend $1.5 million reviving Ben Ean as a Hunter showcase and readying it to sell Petersons wines, the Lisa McGuigan range and wines of other Hunter producers. The site’s general liquor licence also allowed it to retail TWE’s Lindeman’s, Penfolds, Rosemount and Coldstream Hills wines.