Unquestionably the most aggressive and profit-driven Australian wine company of any significance, Mildara Blass is a fully owned subsidiary of Australia's largest brewer, Fosters Ltd. It claims around 40 percent of the Australian sparkling wine market and 25 percent of Australia's premium table wine market. Its 1999 vintage was 10.2 million gallons (38.8 million l), sourced from its own 8,155 acres (3,300 ha) under vine plus its contracted grape suppliers.
Mildara Blass' annual sales of 5 million cases are worth A$562.7 million (US$341.4 million). Nearly half are exported, key overseas markets being the USA, UK and other European countries. More than half of its wine exports are to the USA, where sales rose by 25 percent in 1999. Wolf Blass, its most successful export brand, is the largest selling Australian wine in Canada and Mildara Blass' dominant brand in the UK, achieving an extraordinary 77 percent growth by volume in 1998. Mildara Blass also claims that its export-only Black Opal label is the largest selling "premium" Australian wine in the US.
Owner of more than 30 brands, Mildara Blass has assembled a major direct-selling business headed by the Australian company Cellarmaster, one of the world's largest wine clubs. It also owns wine clubs in Holland and Germany. Mildara Blass is working feverishly to meet pent-up global demand for red wine and, helped by its recent purchase of McLaren Vale producer Maglieri, increased its volume of red wine sales by 28 percent in 1999.
Mildara Blass owes much of its profitability to its focus on the top-priced 25 percent of the wine market and the top-priced 5 percent outside Australia. Its before-tax earnings for 1999 were up by a remarkable 46 percent to $120 million (US$79 million). Mildara Blass' expansionary style has paid great dividends with some subsidiaries, such as Yellowglen and Wolf Blass, but others like Krondorf, Tisdall and Balgownie, have lost their original direction and focus.
The Maglieri, Yellowglen, Black Opal, Andrew Garrett, Wolf Blass, Rothbury Estate, Saltram (Barossa), Baileys, Yarra Ridge and St Huberts and Ingoldby brands have now joined the company's home-grown collection of Jamieson's Run, Mil-dara Coonawarra, Annie's Lane, Robertson's Well, Half Mile Creek and Flanagan's Ridge. Mildara Blass also owns the wine club brands Pallhuber, Cellarmaster and Pelican Point. Its overseas acqui-sitions comprise 310 acres (125 ha) of developing vineyard in California, where the company owns the Bayliss & Fortune brand, plus a winery in Chile producing the Dallas-Conte range of wines "made in the Australian style." Mildara Blass also owns bottling, packaging and wine delivery ser-vices that contribute about A$100 million (US$61 million) per year to its revenue.
Although its history dates back to 1888, the Mildara trademark wasn't registered by the then Mildura-based company until 1937. After the Second World War, remained largely a sherry producer well into the 1960s. The first Mildara red table wine was made in 1951. After acquiring a controlling interest in Walter Reynell & Sons in 1952, Mildara enjoyed more than 20 years of successful with its multi-regional "yellow label" series. A desire to make finer and more elegant reds led winemaker Ron Haselgrove and son Richard to Coonawarra in 1953, where he bought Mildara's first vineyard site in 1955 and steadily increased Mildara's vineyard ownership. The company built its Coonawarra winery in time for the 1973 vintage, and its Coonawarra wines gradually supplanted the yellow label series as Mildara's premier reds. Mildara acquired the historic Eden Valley wine producer Hamiltons in 1979, then bought Yellowglen in 1984 and Balgownie in 1985, heralding a decade of acquisitions whose highlight was the purchase of Wolf Blass Wines Ltd in 1991.
Wolf Blass fashioned the first wines destined for release under the Wolf Blass label in 1966 while working as winemaker for Tolley, Scott and Tolley. He left that company in 1973 to pursue his own brand, at the Bilyara site outside Nuriootpa, in South Australia, in 1969. His first wine was a Yellow Label red. Five years later he began his remarkable run of three straight Jimmy Watson Trophies. Chief winemaker John Glaetzer, who joined the company in 1975, has more than maintained the company's brilliant record in Australian wine shows. Wolf Blass issued the prospectus for Wolf Blass Wines Ltd in 1984. Six years after Mildara purchased Wolf Blass, Mildara Blass was itself bought by Fosters Brewing, which then added the Rothbury Group to its stable in 1998.
As a business, it is hard to pin weaknesses on Mildara Blass. Its performance has been exceptional for more than a decade, and it has shown larger and more established Australian makers that wine can indeed generate returns on investment comparable with other industries. It is clearly less interested in what are now called "super premium" wines, but focuses almost exclusively on the purchase or development of solid mid-market brands where a return can be made. It's not the most prestigious of Australian wine companies, nor is it likely to be, but it is the most profitable.
Mildara Blass now owns several brands based in or adjacent to Coonawarra. However, in its efforts to create a strong market presence for the Jamiesons Run, Robertson's Well and other labels, it has virtually left its famous Mildara Coonawarra brand to wither on the vine.
The small number of outstanding Mildara Blass wines includes the excellent reds of Nigel Dolan at Saltram in the Barossa Valley, which are released under the Saltram and Mamre Brook labels. His Metala reds, the Original Vines Shiraz especially, are also excellent value. Wolf Blass reds have changed very little over the years, so its new regionally labelled table wines of considerable character have been greeted with some interest. Wolf Blass rieslings, especially the Gold Label, are justifiably rated highly for quality and value.
The three new Clare Essentials rieslings support the claim by Mildara Blass to be taken seriously as a maker of top-shelf table wines. Annie's Lane is another standout brand for its apparently under-priced delivery of excellent Clare Valley table wines, atop of which sits the Contour Shiraz.
Mildara Blass sees its future as one of the world's great premium wine companies. Its continued expansion will be based on increasing exports, making more wine in other countries and in developing a global net of direct-selling wine clubs, which already account for 10 percent of the world's wine club market.
From "Encyclopedia of Wine"
?Global Book Publishing Pty Limited 2000