Tributes have been paid to Bob McLean, the respected Barossa winemaker and advocate for Australian wine, who has died.

Bob McLean. Image credit: Cellarmasters

Bob McLean
died from liver cancer this week at the age of 67. Prior to his death, he arranged for a self-written note on his life to be published on the Barossa Dirt blog.

‘The time seems right to release a statement to confirm that these rumours of my death are true,’ says the note, which was published on 9 April. ‘It’s been a good 67 years.’

McLean, a former pub bouncer and electrician, had become a strongly respected figure in the Australian wine industry, and especially in South Australia.

There has been an outpouring of tributes from many producers in Barossa, in particular, where McLean managed St Hallett winery until it was bought by Lion Nathan in 2001.

Grant Burge Wines said it was ‘deeply saddened’ by the news, while the team at Chateau Tanunda called McLean ‘a friend and mentor’.

Wine Australia’s chairman, Brian Walsh, said, ‘Bob was ‘big’ in every sense; big frame, a big thinker with a big heart. He was in good spirits and working for his dear family and the Barossa community to the end. He leaves our Australian wine community with a big legacy. He will be missed.’

One of McLean’s first roles in the wine world was promoting Pol Roger Champagne in Australia. He subsequently joined Australia’s Petaluma, where he helped to build the brand, and, in 1988, he became managing director of St Hallett.

‘When Bob joined, [St Hallett] had something like a dozen tawny “ports” in their range,’ wrote Craig Smith, of the UK-based Australian Wine Centre in his own obituary for McLean this week.

‘He moved swiftly to modernise the range, focusing on the flagship Old Block Shiraz and adding modern style whites and reds. Rapid growth followed.’

After selling up to Lion Nathan, McLean worked on his own vineyard on the border between Barossa Valley and Eden Valley. ‘Bob McLean will be greatly missed by his many friends in the UK wine trade,’ said Smith, who was one of the early proponents of Australian wine in the UK in the early 1980s.

‘I was never really a star at anything, but I participated in everything,’ McLean wrote in his note on Barossa Dirt. ‘That’s the secret. You don’t have to be a star. Just participate.’ He thanked hospital staff for the care they had provided.

McLean is survived by his wife, Wilma, his children Adam and Sarah and much-loved grandchildren.

Written by Chris Mercer