Wines of the world, and beyond

Thursday, 3 June 2021

He certainly has fingers in many different pies. With his father and brother, Jeremy owns the Autobarn car accessories store at Elizabeth. With his wife, father-in-law and best mate, he owns Mad Dog Wines, a Barossa boutique winery. And with four other friends and acquaintances, he is a partner in a wine export/import business.

There is one business which he describes as his "baby", though: D'Or to Door, a mail order wine business specialising in fine (mostly European) wines. On Jeremy's list, you will find wines ranging from 2001 Hecula red ($19, from Spain) and Jacquesson Cuvee No 728 N/V ($64, from Champagne) to 2000 Chateau Montrose St Estephe ($285, from Bordeaux) and wines from Italy, Germany, Portugal and even New Zealand. There is not a single Australian wine among them. Is Jeremy a wine snob?

Au contraire. This is a sensible business proposition. "There is a bit of a niche in the market," he said. No point going head to head with supermarket giants, given their enormous buying power. Instead, use contacts developed in the industry over years and a low overhead base to sell specialist wines to discerning buyers at a reasonable price. Simple really.

Born in New Guinea in 1970, Jeremy got to see a lot of Australia in his childhood as the family moved around with his father's job at Shell. They're solidly South Australian, though. "My grandfather, grandmother and father were all born in the Barossa," he said. His grandfather was an accountant for Yalumba for 35 years. His father, Leon, is president of Meals on Wheels and a director of the RAA.

Jeremy was interested in wine at a young age. "I guess I was different to my peers. I like to have a beer but I always used to enjoy drinking wine," he said. He started a degree in accountancy after leaving school in Perth. When his family moved back to Adelaide, he decided to study wine marketing at Roseworthy. He had a number of sales and marketing jobs in the wine industry and ran the Melbourne branch of Negociants wine exporters.

When his father left Shell after 30 years, he was looking for a business for his "semi-retirement". Leon, Jeremy and his brother, Sam, looked at a variety of franchises and bottle shops and pubs but finally settled on a Bumper to Bumper franchise in 1996. "It took us a while to get on our feet," Holmes said, "we didn't have any background in the industry." The franchise merged with Autobarn and the Holmes' store grew exponentially to have the highest turnover of any Autobarn store in the state.

However, the wine business was always looming in the background. In 1998, David Ridge, long-time agent for Petaluma and Primo Estate, approached Jeremy and three others to set up a distribution and marketing business to assist smaller wineries. SATCO, the South Australian Trading Company, now distributes Primo Estate, Ashton Hills, Heritage and Two Fold wines overseas. They also sell their own label, Red House, and import select wines.

In the following year, Jeremy, his wife Heidi, her father Geoff Munzberg and friend Aaron Brasher decided to produce their own shiraz using choice fruit from Geoff's 250 acre vineyard in the Barossa. They engaged Ben Glaetzer as consultant winemaker. "We use the best French oak," Jeremy said. "We just started making a few hundred cases each year." That was until Mad Dog Wines 2001 Shiraz beat the 1998 Penfolds Grange in a wine tasting comparison of six Barossa shirazes in Brisbane in 2003.

Jeremy had developed an interest in fine wines over the years and dabbled in importing wines, mostly for himself and friends. In November last year, he and Heidi thought they'd make it a legitimate business venture. "Our sales are all by direct mail. We have a mailing list which has grown pretty much by word of mouth," Jeremy said. Every wine on the list has been thoroughly road-tested, usually over a meal, with Heidi and sometimes friends. Jeremy and Heidi travel to Europe often and enjoy eating at restaurants where they will seek out wines that aren't seen in Australia. "I also use a lot of existing importers in Australia. I'll look at their lists and order, say, three mixed dozen. I use the John West principle - I reject a lot," he said. Of 60 or 70 wines sampled, only 16 will make the cut. "They have to stand up over a meal." A rigorous, self-enforced quality assurance system if ever there was one.

Jeremy currently spends three days a week on D'Or to Door which he operates out of his Tanunda home. General managers run SATCO and the Autobarn businesses, and he is gradually extracting himself from their day-to-day operations. He hopes to be able to devote four or five days a week to the mail order business. "I don't want to commercialise it too much. I do want it to be self-funding and making a modest profit, but I want to have a clubby feel," he said. D'Or to Door sounds like a case of putting your money where your mouth is.