Robb Interview: The Taylors Wines Family
How innovation and determination led this South Australian family of former hoteliers to become an award-winning, global force in wine.
It’s an impressive feat matched by very few. Despite being a touch over 50 years old, Taylors is already one of the most recognisable names in Australian and international wine.
The family-owned winery has forged a reputation via years of graft, foresight and innovation. And now, as led by a third generation of familial winemakers, continues to go from strength to strength.
Robb Report spoke to brothers – Clinton Taylor, Company Director and General Manager Wintery Operations; Justin Taylor, Company Director and Export Manager and Mitchell Taylor, Managing Director and Third Generation Winemaker – to better understand what it takes to grow a legacy and what the future holds.
RR: Taylors Wines is today a respected and well-known label – but when and why did the family begin in wine?
Mitchell Taylor: We were hoteliers back in the ‘50s and the way that we went from hotels to the winery was because we started to see the trends. Table wine was just starting to become prominent and more hoteliers were after it, so we started another business called South Australian Wine Distributors.
RR: And from distributors to growers?
Mitchell Taylor: Well, we didn’t like how we’d come across a great vintage being sold [on] a limited run and have to wait six months for the next. My grandfather, Bill Taylor Snr, had a great vision and could see it moving from fortified wine to table wine and was fascinated by great European wines, seeing chateau wine and wanting to make great cabernet sauvignon.
RR: And why’d the family settle in Clare Valley, South Australia?
Justin Taylor: We started to sell out of the hotels and bought where we were sourcing – the Clare Valley. We had a great relationship there, we loved the product that we were getting and we also saw the similarities with the topography, with what was a bit of an inspiration from the French, particularly in Bordeaux, so there were synergies there.
RR: I’d imagine that to be quite the shift from hoteliers to winemakers?
Mitchell Taylor: You know, when we started off the family were laughed at in the Clare Valley. They absolutely laughed at us. ‘What are those idiots, those publicans, doing by planting 320 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon?’ Because you can’t make all fortified wine out of cabernet sauvignon. Mind you in 1969, it was the biggest planting of cabernet sauvignon in the southern hemisphere.
RR: A bold move, but It proved a very good one.
Justin Taylor: Well we went on to release our ’73 cabernet, which won gold medals all around Australia, went on to win the Montgomery trophy. That wine really put us on the map in Australia, so we were catapulted to prominence.
RR: How’s that ’73 cabernet sauvignon hold up today?
Mitchell Taylor: It’s nice, it’s a very delicate wine. Unfortunately, it was put under a cork and they’re hideous things, corks. And so, the levels are down a bit low.
RR: On the topic of corks, how did Taylors come to be the first Australian winery to embrace a screw cap?
Mitchell Taylor: I was at the Clare Valley Winemakers meeting where everyone was having a whinge about corks. So, we put in place an initiative in 2000 vintages with the 12 winemakers in Clare Valley, and we were one of three to dive in and go 100 per cent cork less on our white wine. And then I remember, in 2004, telling my father Bill we were going 100 per cent screw cap across the board and he said, ‘I didn’t mind when you were mucking around with the rieslings, are you serious are you really doing it?’
RR: And abandoning cork curbed the whinging?
Mitchell Taylor: Look, people were really scared of change but it meant we had no customer complaints anymore. We literally eliminated ten per cent of cork taint and eliminated it from our aged wines. If only we were doing screw cap like we were on fortified wines, back in the first vintage, they’d be in a lot better shape.
RR: What’s are some new innovations we can expect to see more of?
Mitchell Taylor: Everyone is talking about the temperature of wine and how it impacts your drinking experience. We’ve developed a thermochromic label that changes colour for each grape variety and will tell you when it’s the right temperature. We give people permission to put great wines back in the fridge. Also, we’ve used a security chip to stop counterfeiting on our Legacy bottle, which I think will be a big part of the premium market.
RR: Speaking of The Legacy, last year you brought a $1000 cab sav to market to celebrate 50 years of Taylors. Talk us through the importance of that bottle?
Clinton Taylor: We’re proudly new world winemakers, but we have old-world finesse and elegance in our wine – and the Clare Valley has allowed us to do that. And when The Legacy came out, I think us three just thought, gosh, wouldn’t our grandfather be so proud of what we’re producing 50 years later.
Mitchell Taylor: It was about making something that would really reflect the terroir, the terra rossa, the beauty of the Clare Valley; something that is a great treat, a great privilege that we have in a family business from a family estate.
RR: How is Taylors looking to the future in regards to sustainable practices?
Clinton Taylor: There are all kinds of things relating to packaging and logistics, but as far as viticulture practices we’re doing some cutting edge stuff like using food-grade silicone skins that minimise the CO2 impact while keeping the wine intact within the barrels while open to ferment, moving from a brine to an ammonia system to have less emissions, even simple stuff like having sheep eat the cover crops in winter so as to not impact the soils. It all plays a part and improves the product.
RR: Is family history ingrained as a source of daily inspiration and motivation?
Justin Taylor: We’re simply the third generation of the baton holders until we pass it on to generation four, and we’re working a lot on that. I think we’ve got to learn from the past and from history and learn from the first two generations and what they achieved, because they gave us a really good baton to run with. But we’ve got to make it a better baton.