US tech entrepreneur Rob Loughan has put Australia’s oldest organic vineyard, Thistle Hill in Mudgee, north-west of Sydney, up for sale after more than a decade of ownership and investment.
The 80.5-hectare property on two titles at 72 and 74 McDonalds Road has been producing award-winning organic wines – those made without weedicides, insecticides or synthetic fertilisers – since it was founded by organic wine industry pioneers David and Lesley Robertson in 1976.
Mr Loughan, who co-founded Octane Software, the world’s first cloud-based customer-relationship management application – which he sold for $US3.2 billion in 2000 at the height of the dotcom boom – took over Thistle Hill in 2009 with his wife, Mary.
They merged it with neighbouring property Erudgere, another renowned Mudgee vineyard that they bought in 2004. Erudgere was founded by the pioneering Roth family, which introduced wine to the Mudgee region in the 1890s.
“The Roth family sold fortified wine to the gold diggers – the cement fermenters are still there,” said Mr Loughan, who has been coming to Australia since the late 1990s.
“I’ve developed five to six tech companies and always launched them in the US and Australia at the same time, all the way back to 1997,” he told The Australian Financial Review.
He said Mudgee came to his attention in the late 1990s as it was where his favourite Australian wine, the Rosemount Mountain Blue Shiraz Cabernet, was produced.
“I spent a lot of time in Mudgee, flying in and out between 2005 and 2009. In 2010 I moved onto the property at Thistle Hill and rebuilt it from the inside out.
“The fruits of my labour was that the first vintage I managed became the number-one organic wine in the southern hemisphere. We’ve constantly got very high scores – 92 and 95 – in the Halliday [Wine Companion].”
Mr Loughan said he had decided to sell Thistle Hill because he didn’t have the time to “give it the passion it deserves”.
“I’ve had to make tough decisions about where I spend my time,” he said.
His latest venture is a company developing “exotic fibre optics” for lasers that could be one of the first products to be manufactured at the International Space Station.
He said he hoped the new owners would continue the tradition started by Leslie Robertson and her late husband Dave, who died in 2001.
The winery produces about 8000 cases a year and has long-standing supply contracts with Woolworths and Dan Murphy’s. It includes a four-bedroom home, three-bedroom cottage and a modern winery and cellar door overlooking the vineyards.
Potential for Sydney escapees
Thistle Hill is being marketed by Trent Robertson of Ray White Mudgee with price expectations of between $3 million and $3.4 million for the land and winery.
“We’re selling the property and infrastructure. If someone wants to buy the business as well we can go down that avenue,” Mr Robertson said.
He said potential buyers could be people looking to escape Sydney (about three-and-a-half hours away) who were looking for a lifestyle property offering a sideline project.
“It’s a good-size property, but it’s not isolated – it’s only a 10-minute drive from town.
“The rise of organics and the preservative-free wine market makes it attractive as it’s the way of the future,” Mr Robertson said.
“Like with beef, people want to know where wine comes from and how it is produced.
“It’s not just a fad. The whole property is certified organic, not just the vines. The balance of the property would suit an organic beef production enterprise.
“Meat and wine work nice together.”