Australia’s wine trade, has evolved spectacularly in the last 30 years, reflecting substantial investments in research, production, marketing and distribution. The ease of communication and travel means a million agendas are swirling around, with old and new wine brands establishing strong followings and building the reputation of Australian wine in hundreds of diverse markets.
Not so long ago, our wine industry was in a bubble of self-absorption and dominated by a few key influencers intent on controlling Australia’s fine wine agenda. The bullying culture and elitist claptrap of the capital wine show system has thankfully eroded.
There's still a belief that wine shows exist to preserve and improve the breed, but the system is more collaborative and generous in spirit. The admittance of sommeliers and more women (still not enough) has recalibrated the gaze of fine wine. Although for some people natural wine is still a step too far, Australia makes some of the world's most exciting and innovative wines. I remember the late Len Evans commenting about the lack of personalities in Australia’s wine industry, but all I've ever seen is character, diversity and imagination.
One such personality was the larger-than-life ex-textile manufacturer and racing car driver Anders Josephson, who passed away in September 2018. He arrived on the Australian wine scene in the early 1990s, after bringing his family to Sydney from Sweden in the 1980s. He was a wine collector extraordinaire and possessed, at the time, the finest personal wine cellar in Australia.
At one stage he was one of Australia's biggest buyers of Dom Pérignon – all for private consumption. He frequented wine auctions with the type of enthusiasm usually seen of speculators at horse races. He fell in love with Penfolds Grange and purposefully set about building the greatest personal collection ever to exist. While he is mostly forgotten in the corporate machinery at Treasury Wine Estates, he singlehandedly pushed forward the value and reputation of Grange as a collectible during the 1990s.
He also established the Anders Josephson Private Wine Collection by buying and cellaring many of Australia’s very top wines in perfect cellaring conditions at his private estate at Gwandalan on the New South Wales Central Coast. These included all the great Penfolds vintages since 1945 and classic modern wines including Henschke Hill of Grace, Mount Mary Quintet, Cullen, Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay (which he loved), Wynns John Riddoch and Yarra Yering No.1. On one occasion a comparative tasting of 1986 Australian wines from the Josephson Collection saw Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz win the day against a field of famous Australian wine marques – including Grange – cementing its reputation as one of the country’s leading ultra-fine wines.
Josephson distributed his beautifully cellar-aged fine Australian wines to many of Sydney’s top restaurants and elsewhere, including Raffles Hotel in Singapore. Leon Fink, Neil Perry, Guillaume Brahimi, Michael McMahon and Dietmar Sawyere supported this marvellous vision. By the early 2000s things began to unravel and Josephson was eventually forced to sell his collection, but not before he made a massive impact on the thinking and ambitions of Australia’s top sommeliers, chefs and restaurateurs.
He gave lift and animated the ultra-fine Australian wine scene during a time when the wine industry was conflicted with its own identity and purpose. While he was not a trained wine expert, he had a gifted eye for the Australian fine wine aesthetic. Combined with his wealth, energy and generosity, he was genuinely loved for his seemingly quixotic intent by so many people working with wine.
Josephson was considered by some leading wine-show judges of the time as a rich outsider who couldn’t be taken seriously, yet during the 1990s he made an extraordinary difference where it mattered. When a small group of people attempt to control an agenda, it instils entitlement, cronyism and stagnation. He enjoyed giving to those who struggled to experience fine wine, particularly young sommeliers.
Anders Josephson knew he was privileged, but used his enormous capacity as a force for good. He believed Australia could make some of the greatest wines in the world and broadcasted this in his own unique and endearing way.