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Peter Lehmann Wines, striving for success through Sydney Royal benchmarks

Posted on : 31 August 2016

Written by: Andrew Graham

(Image above features Ian Hongell, Chief Winemaker, Peter Kelly, Senior Winemaker and Tim Dolan, Winemaker)

The story of Peter Lehmann Wines is of one heroism and chivalry in the wine industry.

It harks back to 1978, when the owners of the Saltram winery instructed their senior winemaker Peter Leon Lehmann not to purchase fruit from the Barossa growers he'd always depended on and they him.

The challenge was consumers had discovered fruity whites, leaving traditional-style red wine grapes rather out of favour. Instead of reneging on his word, however, Peter Lehmann agreed to process the grower's grapes as a risky side project, naming this project label Masterson after high-rolling gambler, Sky Masterson of Broadway's Guys and Dolls.

Within a year Saltram was sold, leaving those persevering grape growers in an even more desperate situation. Lehmann, ever the honourable man, promptly resigned from Saltram and committed himself to setting up a winery for these growers.

Over the following years Masterson grew into Peter Lehmann Wines, and even now, 30 years later, the business ethos is about respect and collaboration, utilising over 140 grape growers.

The success of Peter Lehmann Wines over the years has been reflected in their impressive wine show record, the winery picking up accolades from all around the world - including International Winemaker of the Year in 2003 and 2006. More recently, they've enjoyed success at the Sydney Royal Wine Show. In 2011 alone the winery took home three trophies, with the 2005 Margaret Barossa Semillon usurping a crowd of Hunter whites to win the coveted Trophy for Best Semillon. The winery then followed up with another trophy in 2012, and then three more in 2013.

According to winemaker Tim Dolan, the secret to Peter Lehmann Wines' impressive Sydney Royal success is about consistency, backed by a continual strive for perfection. "We are always looking for ways to make better wine. To never rest on our laurels," Tim says. "This begins in the vineyard with our viticulturist constantly liaising with our growers on how to grow the best fruit so that we can reach the desired level of quality and consistency in the winery."

Tim believes the real value of entering wines in the Sydney Royal Wine Show is that it works as a benchmarking exercise, allowing the winery to see how their wines perform on a national stage. "The Sydney Royal Wine Show acts as a fantastic reference point to see where we sit amongst our peers, (helping) to keep our finger on the pulse," he explains.

The rewards for a bag of trophies go beyond the shiny stickers on the label too. "It's a major morale booster," Tim says. "If we win a trophy it means that all the hard work has paid off, from the effort the growers, the cellarhands, laboratory and winemaking team have put in."

For Tim and the rest of the hardworking production staff, the best part about show success is not at the presentation dinner; it's back at the winery afterwards. "It's worth a barbeque and a few beers to celebrate."