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Sir Peter Derham dies

Sir Peter Derham, founder of Red Hill Estate on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, has died aged 83.

A wine tourism pioneer and a key player in the campaign to save Australian wineries from a crippling federal tax, Derham died in a Melbourne hospital last week.

Stephen Shelmerdine, former president of the Winemakers Federation of Australia, said Derham was one of the founders of the industry on the Mornington Peninsula, along with Brian Stonier, Gary Crittenden, Ian Hickinbotham and Nat White, among others.

He was an innovator of the modern wine industry in the region, focusing on Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, for which the region is now noted, and Chardonnay.

Derham established Red Hill in a sub-region thought too cold and wet for wine grapes but which is now home to other notable wineries including T’Gallant, Montalto and Kooyong.

‘Red Hill was a radical, innovative project,’ Shelmerdine said. ‘Peter had enormous imagination, drive and energy in everything he did. He was a perfectionist, insisting on everything being of the highest quality. He didn’t tolerate mediocracy.’

Derham, educated at Melbourne University and Harvard, entered the wine industry after a business career in which he was managing director of public chemical company Nylex.

Knighted in 1980 and appointed in 1981 a Companion of the Order of Australia, the second highest civilian award in Australia’s honours list, he was chairman of the Australian Tourist Commission from 1981-85.

At Red Hill in 1993 he established one of the first winery restaurants on the Mornington Peninsula, which has become a key attraction in the region.

From 2000, when the Australian government introduced a 29% wine equalisation tax, Derham succeeded in getting rebates in 2004 and 2006 which Winemakers Federation CEO, Stephen Strachan, said were now saving the industry about AUS$185m a year.

‘He played a big role in getting us access to government and as a result 93% of wineries are no longer paying the WET,’ Strachan said. ‘Many owners have said that they would not be in business if we had not got the rebates.’

Written by Chris Snow in Adelaide

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