Sometimes Ben Bryant feels like he should pinch himself when he remembers his job title - ‘Chief Winemaker for Pernod Ricard Winemakers’, responsible for the iconic Jacob’s Creek. As such Ben is the custodian of one of the most famous and important names in Australian wine.
Ben’s journey to one of the most highly prized roles in the industry is not a typical one and it all began when he was a student, earning extra cash by pruning vines in the Central Ranges, New South Wales. Since then he has travelled far and wide, gaining experience that has helped him secure one of the most important roles in the wine industry.
“Fortunately I have the perspective of wine growing, winemaking and everything that is, marketing, the international commercial business and more importantly growing and expanding Australian wine in emerging markets across Asia… But what I really love is being on the bench. Creating and crafting, debating and talking about wine. Drinking wine and growing as a winemaker.”
Johann Gramp and Jacob’s Creek
Before we dive into the detail of Ben’s ascendancy, we should take a few steps back and look at someone else’s journey, Johann Gramp. Johann was the son of a prominent land owner and farmer from Bavaria. His life could have been simple: work the land and eventually inherit a substantial estate. Johann wasn’t interested in the simple life though, he wanted to see the world and carve out his own place in it.
In 1837 at the age of 18, Johann left Germany and headed for the new British colony of South Australia. He spent time on Kangaroo Island and in Adelaide before moving to the Barossa Valley in 1840. Johann settled on the bank of Jacob's Creek, planting a small vineyard in 1847 after recognising that the Barossa Valley was perfectly suited to vines.
Johann sent word back to Germany for cuttings of Riesling to be sent to the emerging wine region. The variety would soon become a classic Australian variety and a signature wine for Jacob’s Creek. It was also the start of a proud history of innovation by Johann and his sons which would form the foundations of the Jacob’s Creek legacy.
The Gramps revolutionise Australian wine
It didn’t take long for Johann’s vineyard venture to thrive. By 1877 the winery was moved to Rowland Flat where it remains at the heart of winemaking for Jacob’s Creek to this day. Successive generations of the Gramp family continued to expand the business into new areas and new markets and then, in 1953, Johann’s great great 455
grandson changed Australian wine forever…
With inspiration from wineries in Germany and Austria, Colin Gramp oversaw the installation of the latest in winemaking technology. The arrival of temperature and pressure controlled fermenters at Rowland Flat allowed Colin and his team to make delicate, aromatic white wines that exploded with enticing perfumes that entranced wine drinkers. The introduction of the semi-sparkling wine, Barossa Pearl, in 1956 brought many a drinker to wine for the first time and laid the groundwork for the global domination of Jacob’s Creek in later years.
Ben Bryant – The early years
Thanks to innovators like Colin Gramp, Philip Laffer and Bernard Hickin, today more than 1,000,000 glasses of Jacob’s Creek are enjoyed around the world every day. You can understand why Ben felt a little bit of pressure when taking on the role of Chief Winemaker at Jacob’s Creek. While there’s no denying he appreciates the weight of expectation that goes with the role, it’s something he has relished and thrived under.
So how does a boy from Central New South Wales become one of the world’s best-selling wine’s Chief Winemaker? Ben grew up on a farm close to Mudgee, one of Australia’s most exciting cool climate wine regions. From a young age whenever Ben wasn’t at school or working on the family farm he was working in one of the local vineyards pruning, picking or whatever other seasonal work needed to be done. At first, he did it for extra cash to spend after school but soon a passion for working the land emerged.
Before he headed down the path to a life in wine, however, our old friend fate decided to play a part. A love of working in agriculture was complimented by an interest in sports physiotherapy. This looked like the route Ben would follow to university before a sporting injury made him realise it wasn’t for him.
Rather than heading to university straight from school, Ben got work as a cellar hand for a vintage at Poet’s Corner in Mudgee. It was love at first crush. Every day was different; working in the vineyards and talking to growers one day, crushing and pressing wines the next day, discussing the final blend with the winemaking team on another. From then on, no matter where he’s been working or what type of role he’s been doing, Ben’s working life has centred on his passion for wine.
“For me, every glass should tell a story. When I talk about the story, it needs to speak of place. It needs to speak of how we’ve crafted the wines. I want all of the wines to speak of where they are from and how they are made.”
Becoming custodian to an Australian wine legend
Passionate people are everywhere in the Australian wine community - from growers to researchers to winemakers to marketers. But just being passionate doesn’t get you a role like this. The unique thing about Ben is how he has managed to gain such an amazing breadth of experience in such a short space of time.
He’s proven himself to be an extremely talented winemaker, but he’s also spent time in other important areas of the business. He spent two years working in Pernod Ricard’s global marketing department which gave him a whole new perspective on wine and accelerated his understanding of consumers around the world.
From there Ben moved to Hong Kong, helping to build and develop regional wine distribution for Pernod Ricard in key emerging markets in Asia. Each different role has added to Ben’s broad understanding of the world of wine, from growing to winemaking to marketing and the international commerce side of the business. Put all of these pieces of the puzzle together and it’s easy to see why Ben is now in charge of winemaking at one of the world’s most recognised wine brands.
“It’s a privilege and an honour but it’s not something to be taken lightly. Jacob’s Creek is an iconic brand within Australia and the global context of Australian wine. It’s humbling. But what I love most is the people I work with… We all have a common vision; we love what we do...wine”
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