Australian wine legend Bob McLean has died - and left a brilliant farewell letter to announce his departure

Bob McLean. Photo courtesy Barossa Dirt.

Bob McLean, the legendary and truly larger-than-life Barossa Valley wine marketer and vigneron has died from liver cancer. He was 67.

McLean’s career included Orlando Petaluma and St Hallet, which he turned into a household name when he joined as managing director and shareholder in 1988. As a marketer, he introduced the world to Australian wine, especially in the UK and Europe, and as well as being deputy chairman of the South Australian Tourism Association, he was one of the driving forces behind the Barossa Wine and Tourism Association.

His last great project was his own bespoke range of McLean’s Farm wines. Shortly before he died, McLean gave a final interview to Adelaide photographer Milton Wordley, which the blog Barossa Dirt published as his farewell message, announcing his passing, yesterday.

It’s pure McLean and as far as goodbyes know, makes you realise who lucky they people who knew him were and how much he’ll be missed. Barossa Dirt kindly allowed us to republish it below:

A message from Big Bob McLean

The time seems right to release a statement to confirm that these rumours of my death are true.

That dyin’ business was fuckin killin me anyway.

Wilma, Adam and Sarah were with me through the last slide, which in the end was a bigger deal for them than it was for me, the wonders of modern medicine being what they are.

Thanks to all the crew at the Angaston Hopital. You were great.

The vet told me this was happening months ago when my liver wore out, so we’ve all had plenty of time to get used to it.

It was a good 67 years. A long ride from Clare, through Peterborough and Hamley Bridge. School at Marist Brothers. Became an electrician. A bouncer at the Old Lion. The Redlegs Club.

It was pure arse that I met Syd Gramp and Tom Morrison who liked the cut of my cloth, and gave me a job at Orlando. Started at the bottom of the pile. I was the assistant to the assistant to the assistant. And on it went.

All those years at Orlando. Petaluma. St Hallett. Banksia. Building brand Barossa. And now the top of the story at the top of the hill.

People always said I was a PR person. I’m more of a communicator than anything. When I was running hot in the ’70s people wanted to know why I didn’t open my own PR thing or go into marketing. They said I’d kill it. But I’m not a marketer. I make things work but that’s not marketing, it’s problem solving, it’s communicating. I get everybody talking. I can get enemies to talk. I can set things up: I’m not a bad adjudicator. I’m a good chair because I listen. My version of chair is that you shut up and listen and make sure everyone gets a say, everyone gets a fair go.

I’ve been lucky. I’ve always set the rules even within corporations. I’ve always been able to back my decisions. One of my sayings is don’t rip anyone off. I’ve never done a deal yet that fucks anyone over, ever. It’s equal equal, win win.

I was never really a star at anything, but I participated in everything. That’s the secret. You don’t have to be a star. Just participate. My advice to everyone that will listen is to participate, learn teamwork and your natural leadership qualities will come out of that. You know the ones that you’re good at, and the ones you’re not good at.

With Wilma and the kids I’ve spent the last years of my life building our Barr Eden vineyard into an absolutely unique winemakers’ vineyard. Wilma selected the territory, Wilma bought this, I simply paid for it. Wilma is the total influence.

I want this vineyard on the mountain viewed forever as a winemaker’s vineyard. I planted it as bush vines so you can’t get a mechanical harvester into it. You can’t mechanically prune it. There’s no water. It’s all dry grown, got its own roots, all in the old original style. It’s all rocks. We get the best grapes up here in the cross flow winds. Barr Eden’s designed for the winemakers to come here – to look for quality – to perve on the quality and then fight for it.

Now I’ve cast off in Bessy the boat with a Barr Eden Shiraz Mataro Grenache to marvel about how quick it all was.

Tongue in cheek I even stopped being a winemaker, because I never was. I mean, I’m a dreamer, a story teller. I think about things, create and get it done.

There I go again, lapsing into the present tense. I sorta like that. I’ll leave the future with you.

Cheers, Bob.

* The McLean family request privacy at this time.

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