Hazel Murphy, loved by all

Hazel Murphy with UK trade group in Australia, Feb 2019

5 January 2020 Some specific memories of Hazel are appended to this short tribute.

2 January 2020 The woman who took Australia’s wine exports from AU$1.4m to AU$897.1m. 

Yesterday’s passing of Hazel Murphy, 71, should not go unremarked on this website. Put her name in our search box and you will find seven articles in praise of her.

She singlehandedly spearheaded Australian wine’s invasion of Europe at the end of the last century. This, despite her deceptively diminutive stature and casual, friendly demeanour, a bit like that of a cheeky sparrow. She continued to support Australian wine to the end, and is seen here, in the middle of a group of UK wine merchants less than a year ago on the last of many trips to Australia she organised. And below are two lovely pictures of her, taken by Steven Morris during the olive harvest at Jane Hunt MW's house in Umbria in 2010.

Hazel Murphy below olive trees chez Jane Hunt MW in 2010 by Steven Morris


Hazel Murphy during Jane Hunt MW's olive harvest in 2010 by Steven Morris

Raised in Stockport on the outskirts of Manchester, she was always a down-to-earth northerner who did not come from a wine background. In fact, her objectivity probably helped her devise the most original and effective ways of introducing first Britons and then Europeans in general to what Australia had to offer late-twentieth-century wine drinkers: fully ripe, technically perfect, varietally labelled wines that were blissfully easy to understand and appreciate. She also understood the structure of the trade and that in the initial stages it was essential to concentrate on the supermarkets and northern European monopolies if Australia’s massive and growing wine surplus was to find export markets.

Initially chief executive of the UK arm of the generic organisation now called Wine Australia, she skilfully navigated Australian bureaucracy, and was notable for organising tastings of Australian wine anywhere she could think of, especially at sporting events. (This would not be possible nowadays in France, for instance.)

She instituted the major Australia Day tasting that for many years constituted a love-in between Australian wine producers and the UK, and then European, wine trade and press. Summoned by Hazel at the end of every January, Australia’s finest winemakers would desert their sun-kissed, fast-ripening grapes to pour their wines in chilly, sometimes snowy London. The early versions of this hugely popular event took place in the Café Royal but when the event outgrew the space, Hazel cheekily moved it to Lord’s cricket ground, a first for both wine and cricket.

One of her boldest schemes was the Wine Flight of a Lifetime, a two-week tour of Australian wine regions that she organised in 1992 for 110 trade and media, mixing the two as had never been done before. She made some of the trade pay for their flights, which concentrated minds most effectively. You can read about it here, where wine PR Rosamund Barton nominates this trip as the wine promotion she most admires.

She dazzled in this role, apparently undertaking a massive proportion of the necessary spadework herself, from 1985 until 2002 when she stepped down for a rather easier life representing a few specific producers, of not just wine but also olive oil. During her reign, the value of Australia’s wine exports, at that time mainly to Europe, ballooned from AU$1.4 to $897.1 million. Hardly surprisingly, in 1996 she was made a Member of the Order of Australia and received the Maurice O’Shea Award for her outstanding contribution to the Australian wine industry.

She had a flat in the south of France for some years but, as Stephanie Toole of Mount Horrocks corrects me, in her latter years, 'she lived on a remote property near Macclesfield an hour from Manchester. She loved to walk the hills and lanes come rain or shine. She was often snowed in and I used to worry about the remoteness but she used to reply cheerfully “oh, the farmer goes by on his tractor every few days”!' 

No one who met her will forget her.

Judy Kendrick of JK Marketing writes: It’s been so sad. Five months of struggle for her. She started with a one day procedure that turned into a month in hospital (muddled up procedure and hospital virus), then another procedure and home with bags protruding out of her, procedures on her liver followed by an operation. Poor girl. But as you can imagine she was upbeat, with-it and positive all the way through right until the end.

Basically Hazel didn’t want an official funeral. She just wanted people to have a party wherever they were in the world or to raise a glass to her. So I think there will be a wine trade party with Wine Australia and a much more low-key even for northern friends and relations as well. 

Vicky Bishop adds:  Jane Hunt has just sent me a link to your excellent article on Hazel and I just wanted to say how very well it read describing the real ‘Hazel’ not just the wine one. I was her first full-time assistant from 1987 to 1990 and I followed or drove her to an amazing array of venues up and down the UK from the Royal Agricultural Show to the golf in St Andrew's.

She became a very loyal friend and amazingly popped up at Verzy for the final day of my Great French Ride which you so generously supported. As you said, what she achieved was extraordinary - we didn’t call her Mighty Mouse for nothing! She will be sorely missed.

She was not religious so I'm not surprised there is to be no funeral. She always said life was for living and she was good at a party!

Vicky is particularly keen that a scholarship should be set up in her name so that one young person a year could go to Australia and see the industry for themselves. 'From personal experience I know that would be brilliant as I was fresh back from my own vinous travels down under when I got the job with Hazel - it was the main reason she employed me - and I had learned so much.'

Tim Johnston of Juveniles in Paris adds: What a lousy start to the year; your piece on our Hazel was excellent. 'Loved by all' she certainly was. She changed my world with the first Wine Flight. I would probably have never got into Australian wines and I would never have met David Gleave of Liberty Wines, let alone people like Charlie Melton, Bob MacLean, Steph Toole and Jeffrey Grosset, Robert O’Callaghan, or Vanya and Diana Cullen. She managed to keep up with so many friends and had that amazing ability of making you feel like you really mattered when you were with her. As you so rightly said, she will be sorely missed.