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  • Jancis Robinson
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  • Jancis Robinson
9 Sep 2013

Dave Powell (pictured), founder of the high-profile Barossa Valley winery Torbreck, and producer incidentally of this wine of the week, is a colourful character. Once met, rarely forgotten. When I last saw him in a smart London restaurant a couple of years ago it was difficult to prevent him from showing me a brand on his buttock that he had somehow acquired on a recent trip to Scandinavia.

The company had to be rescued financially 10 years ago and five years ago was taken over by the American owner of California winery Quivira. But Powell was still very much in evidence, particularly in Asia where he did much to put Torbreck and its relatively high prices on the map. Quite what he has been responsible for in the past few years is now hotly disputed but according to this recent article in Wine Spectator by California-based Harvey Steiman, he has been shown the door. No one would expect him to go quietly and here is his statement this morning:

I'm deeply distressed and saddened by the events that have unfolded at Torbreck over the past week. It was never my intention to leave Torbreck and to have lost the company, my hard work of 20 years, and my sons' inheritance is an absolute nightmare for me.

I was offered a deal five years ago when I had my back to the wall financially, which my lawyer told me not to sign. In extremis and under the illusion of goodwill I signed it anyway and that one stupid mistake has cost me my life's work.

The article in Wine Spectator this week stated that my management style was 'volatile'. I'm particularly hurt by that because I treat my team like family, always have, and I count a great many of them as personal friends, friendships which will survive long after this mess is forgotten.

The article also insinuated that I haven't been responsible for hands-on winemaking since 2006. That's just complete bullshit. I've been in the Barossa alongside the troops every single harvest since I founded Torbreck in 1994, and I take full personal responsibility for the quality of every wine with a Torbreck label on it. That's why I wanted to declassify the 2009 Laird this year, as I have done in the past with the 2007 Laird and the 2008 RunRig. Something happened in the particular barrel store where the wine is kept. For the first time in five years the volatile acidity in the wine had gone through the roof and [was] left unchecked. I took responsibility for it and we tried to remedy it, but it couldn't be done. I believe the 2009 wine is unsaleable at the high price we command for it. I was offered a 'job' after losing Torbreck, selling my own wine on commission. Even if I had contemplated acting as commission salesman for the company I built from nothing, that couldn't be profitable without a 2009 Laird.

I have been accused of playing the victim, of being dishonest, of being reckless with company money. If I'm a victim it's of my own stupidity in signing that deal in the first place and I'm the first to admit it. The rest though, I strenuously deny.

As a result of the last week's proceedings I am now facing bankruptcy, living in a house kindly given to me rent-free by friends, driving a borrowed car. I've found out who my friends are during this time and I'm deeply grateful to all of them.

My passion and life's work lies in the Barossa and I plan to rebuild a new venture here with my son Callum, who is currently studying winemaking in France with our great friends Erin and Jean-Louis Chave. They're just two of the hundreds of great friends I made during the Torbreck journey and I am grateful indeed for the people who remain in my life.

They can take the company I built but they can't take my passion. Torbreck's just a label now - the future holds better things.

Of course I have no way of knowing the truth of his wild allegations about 2009 Laird. The 2008 is currently on sale at over £500 a bottle.