Monday, October 22, 2012

Meeting Doug Lehmann of Peter Lehmann Wines at Pearson’s in Washington DC, USA/Australia

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller and Doug Lehmann at Pearson's in Washington DC

Peter Lehmann is an icon in the world of wines. I was happy to meet Peter Lehmann’s son, Doug Lehmann, who was Managing Director of Peter Lehmann Wines until recently, at “good old” Person’s Wine Store in Washington DC.

Peter Lehmann Wines

Peter Lehmann Wines is one of Australia's most respected winemakers.  The wines are made from grapes purchased from about 185 independent growers as well as grapes grown in the 4 company-owned vineyards. Many of Peter Lehmann Wines growers’ families have worked the same vineyards for five and, in some cases, six generations.

The majority of the vineyards from which Peter Lehmann Wines sources fruit are classified as mature, ranging in ages from 20 to over 100 years old. Many are ungrafted and dry grown.

Peter Lehmann Wines produces around 600,000 cases annually with distribution to Australia but also to the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries.

Fascinating History of Peter Lehmann Wines

It all started in the late 1970s. Peter Lehmann was the winemaker for Saltram, when he was instructed by his superiors not to buy any grapes from the farmers anymore, because of the oversupply of Australian wine. He was appalled and refused to send a letter to the growers with the bad news. That was the moment when everything changed.

Peter Lehmann found some investment partners and established a consortium, with the view of buying the grapes himself. The first vintage was processed in 1980. Peter Lehmann sold all the white juice to Lindeman's which gave him enough cash to pay for all the grapes. The legend grew of Peter sitting up on his weighbridge, measuring grapes, sharing a glass of wine and some good German sausage with the growers who came to sell their grapes. About 185 growers became part of the extended family.

In 1982 the winery was formally named Peter Lehmann Wines.  From then on, Peter Lehmann's wines have been marketed under the Peter Lehmann Wines label.

Pictures: Dough Lehmann

In the following years, the original investors of Peter Lehmann Wines sold their interests and principal ownership passed to the South Australian investment company, M.S. McLeod Holdings in 1987. Peter Lehmann and his wife Margaret remained minority shareholders. In 1990, Peter’s son Doug Lehmann was appointed CEO of the McLeod Wine Group.

A few years later, the McLeod Wine Group run into financial problems. Peter, Margaret and Doug Lehmann, with staff and growers, mounted a fearless campaign to save the company. Their savior was a close friend, who lent them US$4 million, giving them the breathing space to raise the necessary capital through a public offering. The capital was oversubscribed almost overnight, with Barossa growers, staff, friends and small subscribers rallying to invest.

In 1993, Peter Lehmann Wines was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange and Doug Lehmann took up the challenge of Managing Director. At that time, Peter Lehmann Wines had a shareholder base of over 3600 people.

After a decade of success as a public company, the company faced yet another threat with multi-national drinks company, Allied Domecq buying shares on the open market. Recognizing that Donald Hess shared the same beliefs, long term views and cultural values as Peter Lehmann Wines, Peter Lehmann sold five per cent of his holding to Donald Hess. This triggered a very public takeover battle with Peter Lehmann backing Donald Hess all the way. Eventually, Donald Hess purchased 86% of the company for a total shareholder value of the company of US$ 103 million. It still meant selling the company, but it went to a group the Lehmanns felt were compatible with their view of life. They retained just more than 10 per cent.

Today, Peter Lehmann Wines is part of the Donald Hess family. For more on the amazing success story of Donald Hess, see: German Winemakers in the World: Swiss-German Donald Hess, US, South Africa, Argentina, Australia

Peter Lehmann - born in 1930 - is not in good health any more but he remains a legend.

Barossa Valley

The Barossa Valley in South Australia is one of the best wine-producing regions on Australia, around an hour from Adelaide. The Barossa Valley is primarily known for its red wine, in particular Shiraz. Normally, large proportions of Barossa Shiraz is used in Penfolds Grange (Australia's most famous wine). Other main grape varieties grown in the region include Riesling, Semillon, Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon. There are also some fortified wines traditionally produced in the region.

The evidence of the original German settlers can be seen in the steeply sloping roofs of the older buildings. The local cuisine is very heavily influenced by Germanic culture. Religion in this region is predominantly Lutheran.

Doug Lehmann

Doug Lehmann is the eldest son from Peter’s first marriage, with Annie Lehmann, born in 1952. Doug Lehmann began cellar work in 1972 under his father’s guidance. Since 1990 until recently, Doug Lehmann was Managing Director of Peter Lehmann Wines.


Pearson's is a amily owned business which was established in 1933 when "Doc" Eisenberg bought Pearson's Pharmacy on Wisconsin Avenue. Alcoholic beverages were sold by prescription during Prohibition but soon thereafter, when alcohol again became legal, liquor sales overtook the small neighborhood pharmacy. So he and his wife, Sarah, opened Pearson's Liquor Annex a few doors down the street. During the 1940's and 50's, Pearson's became a major force in Washington's liquor market. In the 60's, Pearson's entered the sophisticated world of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and fine German wines.

David Choi now owns the store.

What Doug Poured

2010 Peter Lehmann Layers White

Semillon, Muscat, Gewuerztraminer, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay, each add character to the final blend. An attractive pale yellow with green tints, it has aromas of citrus, hints of peach and aromatic lifted spiciness. It has excellent structure and a soft creamy mouth-feel, delightful depth on the middle palate and finishes wonderfully fresh with a mouthful of crunchy fruit.

2010 Peter Lehmann Layers Red

The red is a Rhone blend, with Shiraz, Mourvedre and Grenache as the lead grapes. It’s smooth and easy-drinking, great fruit and spice blend and a fantastic everyday red.

2009 Peter Lehmann Clancy's Blend

Blending Shiraz 39% and Cabernet Sauvignon 38% with Merlot 23% makes Clancys an extremely affable drop, the perfect companion to robust flavors and spirited conversation. Australia’s legendary red blend

2009 Peter Lehmann Shiraz

This is such a classic taste of Barossa Shiraz, with lashings of chocolate and plum aromas and flavors. It’s a big mouthful of fruit with a firm and generous structure delivering all the comfort you’d expect from a Peter Lehmann wine.

Postings about Earlier Tastings at Pearson's

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The Excellent Wines of Alexander Valley Vineyards in California

Meeting Matthieu Mangenot, Managing Director of Domaine Long-Depaquit in Chablis, France and Tasting His Wines

Zinfandel and Other "Italian" Wines of Seghesio Vineyards in California

Wine Tasting: The Pinot Noirs of Patricia Green Cellars, Oregon, US

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1 comment:

  1. How curious, that an oversupply of Austrian wine should be the catalyst for establishing a great Australian wine label. But happy fortune for those of us in South Austria and also the Untied States where these wines are also sold.