At first glance, John Hegarty and Brian McGuigan are the last two men on earth with anything in common. Hegarty is the creative mind behind Bartle Bogle Hegarty and such iconic slogans as "Vorsprung Dürch Technik" and our very own paper's memorable campaign, "It Is. Are You?" McGuigan is a larger-than-life Australian and, until he stepped down recently, was MD of McGuigan Simeon, the biggest wine-only company listed on Australia's stock exchange. Yet each in his own very different way has set out to create something from nothing, or, more precisely, to develop new wine brands from their respective wine gluts - Hegarty's in France, McGuigan's in Australia.
"I decided to get into the wine business to test the proposition that to make a small fortune from wine you have to start with a larger one," says Hegarty with a wry smile. In 2002, with his Kiwi partner, Philippa Crane, he bought a property with 22 hectares under vine in the heart of the Minervois in the Languedoc.
Why choose the south of France when French wines are in crisis? "Any market in flux, as the French wine market is, is a market to get into. Adopt the Lexus strategy: basically, you come in with a car that's comparable to a Merc but at a lower price. And when everyone else zigs, zag."
A tad risky perhaps, but if all this sounds like glib adspeak, Hegarty is aware of the danger of over-marketing. He believes that for a wine to be visible on a crowded shelf, you need to create not just a brand, but "something individual and trustworthy". How? "Simple. Make a better product." With the aid of his winemaker, Samuel Berger, yields were cut right back and in his first vintage, 2003, showed a marked improvement on what had gone before. The result is a spicy blend of grenache, syrah and cinsault in the 2003 Hegarty Chamans No.2 (£8.85-£8.99, Oddbins, Adnams, 01502 727222), with robustly herby, garriguey fruit and smooth dark cherry and raspberry fruitiness, and a bigger, bolder No.1 (£10.99, Adnams), a powerful syrah-based red on the cusp of over-ripeness.
Taking advantage of the wine glut in Australia, Brian McGuigan has built McGuigan Simeon into a major wine power. The process has involved tough decisions, risking the wrath of growers in the latest vintage, for instance, by reducing his company's grape intake. McGuigan Simeon is best known for its Black Label but still lacks brand clout next to the likes of Jacob's Creek and Yellow Tail. Its policy has been to concentrate on own-label supermarket wines such as Tesco's Finest Aussie range, but McGuigan is trying to up the profile of McGuigan Simeon itself. How? By tailoring bespoke medium-weight products under the McGuigan Signature, Selection and Estate name in a fruitier, less oaky style.
More Australian muscle car than Lexus perhaps, the McGuigan Signature Adelaide Hills Sauvignon is a crisp, dry product highlighting the cool-climate character of the grape, and the 2004 Signature Langhorne Creek Shiraz (both £5.99, buy 2 for £4.99 each until 1 May, Majestic), is a well-made, warm, spicy red, while the 2005 McGuigan Estate Limestone Coast Chardonnay (£7.99, Sainsbury's) takes the pedal off the oak to give a refreshing peachy fruitiness. McGuigan's daughter Lisa has added two wines to her own premium, pewter label Tempus Two range: a spicy, fresh pear-like 2005 King Valley Pinot Gris and herby, cherrystone 2004 Mayday Hill Sangiovese (£14.99, but a good price at £9.99, taking advantage of Wine Rack's buy-three-for-two deal).Reuse content