The following sad news has just reached us via Australian wine specialist Craig Smith and Andy Sparrow of Bibendum.
Bob McLean, who has died aged 67, was one of the driving forces behind the Barossa Valley’s rise to prominence in the UK. The former electrician and nightclub bouncer took to PR like a duck to water at Orlando, where he eventually became responsible for promoting Pol Roger in the Australian market, taking it from number 12 to number three in the Australian wine industry. Bob was rumoured to have a tasting allocation of a pallet per annum – his motto was 'never give a bottle away with the cork on it'.
Bob moved to Petaluma, helping the brand build its reputation. In 1988, Bob accepted an offer to become a shareholder and managing director of a little-known (at the time) Barossa winery, St Hallett, which, when Bob joined, had something like a dozen tawny 'ports' in its range.
He moved swiftly to modernise the range, focusing on the flagship Old Block Shiraz and adding modern whites and reds. Rapid growth followed. Around that time he was spotted having lunch in two restaurants on the same day earning him the nickname of 'Sir Lunchalot'. Bob insisted that he was just supporting his customers.
He first visited the UK in 1992 and on his return to Australia encouraged his fellow Barossa producers to bring their wines to the UK, organising a series of large tastings in London that built up the region’s profile to where it is today as probably Australia’s best-known region.
When St Hallett was acquired by Lion Nathan in 2001, Bob decided to concentrate on producing wines from his own vineyard on the border of the Barossa and Eden Valleys under the McLean’s Farm label and continued to promote the Barossa whenever he could.
When he was diagnosed with liver cancer last year, he continued with a typically positive attitude, taking the challenge head on. In conversation a few weeks ago he described himself as 'being in a good place'.
Bob McLean will be greatly missed by his many friends in the wine trade. There will surely be a great party somewhere in the great beyond, where he joins his great friends, Peter and Doug Lehmann and Michael Cox among others. He is survived by his wife, Wilma, his children Adam and Sarah, and much-loved grandchildren.