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Sunday 9 August 2015

Ben Who? Changing of the guard as low-profile Bryant takes the reins at Jacob's Creek

After 40 years with the same company, Bernard Hickin has announced his retirement as chief winemaker for Pernod Ricard (which includes Jacob's Creek and the former Orlando brands) as of June 2016.

Hickin joined the business (then known as G Gramp & Sons) in 1976, the same year as the Jacob’s Creek label officially launched.

Hickin will be succeeded by Ben Bryant, a young Australian winemaker who joined Pernod Ricard Winemakers (then Orlando Wines) in 2000. He has since held a number of winemaking, operational, marketing and brand development positions, including chief winemaker for Wyndham Estate.

“I have inherited not only a world-class brand in Jacob’s Creek, but a world-class team of passionate winemakers who have worked tirelessly to make the brand what it is today – and I look forward to joining them on the next stage of the journey,” Bryant said.

Bryant has so far kept a very low profile within the the Jacob's Creek operation and his appointment will come as a surprise to many industry observers. 

He has only 15 years of experience in the wine industry and only just over a decade as a winemaker. He's been promoted over existing team members Rebekah Richardson, Daniel Swincer and Nick Bruer.

Following in the footsteps of industry legends Ian McKenzie, Phil Laffer and Hickin, he has big shoes to fill. 

As a student, Bryant earned a little extra cash pruning vines in the Central Ranges of New South Wales.

He grew up in Mudgee and his first position was as a cellar hand at the local Poet’s Corner Winery, which was then owned by Orlando Wines. 

Gripped by the wine bug, he enrolled in oenology at Charles Sturt University. He has subsequently worked in numerous regions across Australia, including the Barossa Valley, Hunter Valley and Riverina, as well as doing a vintage in China. 

He joined the winemaking team at Wyndham Estate in 2008 and was named chief winemaker in 2010. He has since had a marketing stint in Hong Kong. 

Throughout his 40 years in wine making, Hickin (above) has been responsible for several major innovations, including moves to increase sparkling wine production and varietal labelling.

He was appointed chief winemaker of Australian brands in 2006, and then Jacob’s Creek global chief winemaker in 2010.

Brett McKinnon, global operations director for Pernod Ricard, paid tribute to Hickin's commitment.

“We are extremely grateful for the contribution that Bernard has made towards our success,” he said. “He will be missed by the team and we wish him all the very best for his retirement.”

Hickin will remain with Pernod Ricard until June 2016 and will assist with the transition and focus on various winemaking projects within the company portfolio.

Jacob’s Creek is one of Australia’s leading global wine brands, offering quality wines with great varietal expression. The brand was first launched in 1976 and is named after the place where Johann Gramp planted his first vines on the banks of Jacob’s Creek in 1847. In doing so, Johann founded the Gramp & Sons business and created a history of winemaking innovation that dates back over 160 years.

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