Born & bred
Born & bred
For the Hunter’s Tulloch family, regaining ownership of their brand has given them fresh strength and resolve.
Published Selector Summer 10/11
For Christina Tulloch and her twin brother Jock, the experience of growing up in the wine industry was much like that of any other child of the vine. They rode on the harvester, woke up at strange hours to watch the grapes being crushed and played hide and seek around the winery.
But while their Hunter Valley peers were instilled with a sense of their vinous family history, for Christina and Jock there was a certain distance between their family and the wine that bore the Tulloch name. Although their father Jay was General Manager, ownership lay with an external corporation and had done since 1969.
So when it came to choosing a career, neither was drawn towards the wine industry. After school, Christina worked in PR before studying communications, while Jock worked in the winery after school, but never really considered a career as a winemaker, choosing international relations instead.
Today, however, things couldn’t be more different. Walking into the Tulloch boardroom you’re greeted by five imposing portraits on the wall. From left to right hang Christina and Jock’s great grandfather, John Younie, their grandfather Hector, father, Jay and then there’s Christina and finally, Jock. Not only is Tulloch Wines back under family ownership, but Christina is now General Manager and Jock is Export Manager.
It was 2001 when Jay and his wife Julia, along with their business partners, were given the opportunity to buy Tulloch Wines from then owners, Southcorp. A few years later, they were ready to open their new cellar door and Jay asked Christina to return to help them. At this time, Christina had had enough of PR and was hoping to save some money to visit her sister in China. Her thinking, therefore, was “I’m just going to come home for a couple of months and get my finances organised.”
Once she began working at the cellar door, however, Christina says she “could see a great career path and massive potential for the Tulloch brand.”
What’s more, she explains, “All these people remembered Tulloch and knew the story and thought it was awesome that we bought it back.” These cellar door visitors also reminded Christina how great it was that her family could control its destiny again and that her forebears would be really proud.
This past generation, who’d never before played a part in the direction of Christina’s life, suddenly became an influential presence. She thought, “There’s all this history and all these generations, we don’t want to mess it up on our watch.”
This history with which Christina felt a strong connection dates back 115 years. In the late 1800s, John Younie (J.Y.) Tulloch owned the General Store at Branxton in the Hunter Valley. When one of his customers ran up a debt, he accepted payment in the form of a Hunter property that was transferred to him in 1895. These 43 acres included five acres of neglected Shiraz vines. J.Y. nurtured these vines back to health and by 1896 he’d produced his first hogshead of red wine.
From that single barrel, J.Y. grew his venture to become, by the 1920s, the Hunter’s largest vigneron. By this time, J.Y. had nine children and the eldest, Hector, was winemaker, assisted by the youngest, Keith. When J.Y. passed away in 1940, Hector took over what had become J.Y. Tulloch & Sons Pty. Ltd.
Under Hector’s watch the company expanded their predominantly fortified wine production into table wine. As Jay explains, “They made Semillon and Shiraz and sold it or swapped it with the likes of Hardys, Lindemans, Penfolds and even some red to Maurice O’Shea.”
However, Jay says, in 1952 his father “decided he wanted to put out his own labels. So he introduced what was called Hunter River White which was Semillon and Pokolbin Dry Red which was Shiraz and they both had a Private Bin version.”
These new labels enjoyed great success both commercially and on the wine show scene. As Jay describes, “In 1956 Hector won the first prize for Claret, first prize for Burgundy and the Best Red Wine of Sydney Show with the same wine, the 1954 Private Bin Dry Red.”
By this time, Jay Tulloch was nine years old and was sent off to boarding school, not coming home until 1962. Three years after Jay’s return, Hector passed away, leaving the company in the hands of his remaining brothers. This meant, Jay explains, they “had a situation developing where the shareholding, as the brothers died or became very ill, would have been in the hands of the sisters-in-law who really didn’t speak to one another.” Hence they decided to sell, handing over to Reed Consolidated Industries in November 1969.
Jay was given the job of assisting the General Manager before taking over the top job himself in 1973. Over the course of the next 28 years, J.Y. Tulloch & Sons Pty Ltd had a series of owners including Gilbeys, Castlemaine Tooheys and eventually Southcorp. For Jay, this period was trying. As he explains, “In those corporate situations you see so many people come and go and everyone who comes along, they want to change things without knowing why. So they’d change it and sometimes it was ok, but most of the time it was not okay and there were some absolute bloody disasters. Then, of course, they’d move on and you’d start again.” By 1996 Jay was pushed to the point where he says he “forced them to retrench me. Then my wife and I set up our own little show next to our house.” Together they ran the JYT Wine Company until they and their partners bought back J.Y. Tulloch & Sons Pty Ltd in 2001.
The rewards of having the Tulloch name restored to family ownership have been many, but one of the greatest has been the resurrection of the Pokolbin Dry Red and the Private Bin in 2003. Having retained similar packaging to that of the originals, Christina says, “It’s amazing the response you get in the cellar door. People come in and say, ‘You know, this is the first wine I ever drank.’ There are a lot of people who have really fond memories of those wines.”
It’s not only Australians who are embracing the new era of Tulloch. The Chinese are developing a growing taste for their wines and as Jock has observed, their family story has done a lot for the success they’ve enjoyed so far. “The fact that Tulloch has such a great history and generational story to tell is certainly a strong selling factor because China respects something that has been able to survive in both the good times and bad times and continues to blend tradition and innovation together in an effort to grow.”
Both Christina and Jock have developed an enthusiasm and passion for Tulloch Wines and their fresh ideas are certainly ensuring the brand remains relevant to all wine lovers. They also share the hope that one day they’ll be able to pass the business on to their own children. However, as Jock explains, “I would never pressure my daughter into a life in wine just as my parents didn’t do that to me. In the end you need to have the passion and commitment to the brand within yourself and that’s something we can encourage but not force. But who knows? It’s a nice idea to think that it might be five generations for the family and the wine industry so we will wait and see!”
Reproduced with the kind permission of Wine Selectors.