Remembering Dr. Tony Jordan

“Dr. Tony Jordan died in Melbourne on 28 August.  He had been suffering from mesothelioma, brought on by exposure to asbestos in the 1970s.  His illness was only diagnosed late last year when he felt short of breath after a walk on his property in the Yarra Valley.

Tony was one of the most influential people in the Australian wine industry over the past 45 years.  Indeed, it is difficult to think of anyone who has been more important and influential.  Armed with a PhD in electronic spectroscopy from Sydney University in the early 1970s, he came to London to do research at University College for 18 months, after which he returned to Sydney where he spent time being bored as a patent attorney.  This boredom came to an end when, in 1974, he saw an advert for a job at what is now Charles Stuart University for a lecturer in Physical Chemistry and Wine Science.  He applied and got the job. He soon realised he knew a lot about chemistry but not enough about wine, so he hired Brian Croser to lecture on oenology.  

The two of them later formed a consultancy company called Oenotech, which can claim to have provided advice to the new generation of boutique winemakers that were starting to sprout up.  With Croser working full out on the newly established Petaluma, Tony went in search of clients, and soon had a burgeoning customer list that included Hunters in Marlborough and Katnook in Coonawarra, among others.  It also included Montrose in Mudgee, where he worked with Carlo Corino, who, when he returned to Italy in the early 1990s, worked at Frescobaldi and Planeta.  During this period, he also met Tony Laithwaite, who persuaded him to set up the ‘flying winemaker’ programme that was such a huge success for the Direct Wines.  Tony, busy as he was at home, recruited a young winemaker called Martin Shaw (from Petaluma, of course) to do the ‘grunt’ work for him in Europe.  It was the first time new world winemaking had come to the old world, and it changed thinking and practices forever.

At the same time, Tony had been approached by Moët Hennessy, on the advice of James Halliday, to head up their operation in Australia.  Tony started working with them in 1985 and became managing director and winemaker in 1987, when he found their site on the Maroondah Highway.  I first met him in 1992 when, on the first Wine Flight of a Lifetime, we visited Domaine Chandon.  Tony’s knowledge, clearly articulated and frankly delivered, made him great fun to listen to.  As he built exports of Green Point (as the wines were known outside of Australia), he was frequently in the UK.  It was during this time that he met his second wife, Michele, who was working for Moët in the UK.  She went on to work for producers like Shaw and Smith and Mitolo, so we had a long association with her.  She moved to Australia permanently in the late 1990s.

Tony was ahead of his time.  Tasmania may be trendy today, but together with Garry Crittenden (of Dromana Estate) he bought and planted some land in the Coal River Valley in 1988.  This vineyard was purchased by Michael Hill Smith and Martin Shaw in 2011 and re-named Tolpuddle Vineyard.  Without Tony’s foresight, Tolpuddle – which produces some of Australia’s most exciting wines - wouldn’t exist.

While at Moët, Tony took on responsibility for Cloudy Bay and Cape Mentelle in 2003 before going into an active retirement in 2008.  He spent several months a year consulting to Moët Hennessy, particularly on their new properties in China.  His ever active mind loved the challenge of looking for new sites.

In 2004, Tony was recruited by Michael Hill Smith to act as a judge of the Australian entries at the Decanter World Wine Awards.  I learnt more tasting with Tony during those few days each year than I did with almost anyone else.  It was always fun to get into a discussion with him, for he liked to debate more than almost anyone else I knew.   Some people viewed him as dogmatic as a result, but I think he just loved engaging in a robust exchange of views.

In recent years he worked with Akarua in Central Otago on the development of their sparkling wines.  That is how they came to be in our portfolio.  “I’m pretty happy with the sparkling wines, and they’ve always made good Pinot Noir,” he said when he rang me one day to see if we would be interested in taking them on.  There could be no greater endorsement of quality.  

His death is a great loss to the wine industry.  He was one of its most influential voices over the past five decades.  And he was a person of the highest integrity who was always a pleasure to share a glass with.  He will be sorely missed.”