As son of the late, great Peter Lehmann, Phil’s inside view of the wine industry started out as a deterrent than an incentive, but a stint in France gave him the inspiration to forge his own path.
The ease with which Phil Lehmann speaks about vineyards, his respect for independent growers and his willingness to embrace new winemaking techniques is simply inspirational. It’s clear he has found his life’s calling.
However, when one reflects on his journey, it was a series of fortuitous opportunities rather than a predetermined plan, that ultimately guided him towards his destiny.
Winemaking wasn’t the first choice for Lehmann, despite growing up in the Barossa Valley. With a larger than life winemaking father, the late Peter Lehmann, his inside view of the industry initially proved more of a deterrent than an inspiration. The hard times of the 1980s, where vineyards were removed, and growers were forced to find other work, were deeply etched in his mind.
Lehmann obtained an honours degree in electrical and electronic engineering, but found it was not for him. While figuring out his next step, he did vintage in the Barossa working under Peter Scholz whose brother was working at St Supéry in the Napa Valley. So, Lehmann made use of the contact and moved to California for work. From there it was Longridge Wines in Stellenbosch, where Barossan Ben Radford was running a winery.
The South African experience gave him responsibility well beyond his years. He met Alex Dale, whose family owned a pub in Beaune and a vintage job was subsequently lined up at Domaine Jacques Prieur. Lehmann packed his bags and headed to Burgundy, with a two-month stopover in London for a retail stint at bottle shop, Oddbins.
The experience in France was life-changing. Not only did it shape his palate, but it cemented in his mind a career in wine. In contrast to his childhood memories of grape growing, the experience showed you could be both a farmer and an astute businessperson, in tune with your land, making and selling world-class wine.
Lehmann began a graduate diploma in oenology at Adelaide University, slipping in another vintage in Stellenbosch and one in the Barossa before his studies began. He took time off mid-course to be involved in the design of a new winery; though the winery was never built. He purchased, with his partner at the time, a property in Lyndoch and planted a 20 acre shiraz vineyard by hand, posts and all, from cuttings he prepared himself. Although he no longer owns this property, this early experience on the land proved invaluable. He’s been hands-on in vineyards ever since.
Lehmann went on to complete his diploma and spent the next five years working at Yalumba, with a focus on chardonnay, followed by a stint at Peter Lehmann Wines and Teusner, as well as starting an MBA.
Today Lehmann is the senior winemaker for WD Wines, making wines under the labels of St John’s Road, Hesketh, Vickery and Parker Estate. With co-winemakers Charlie Ormsby and James Lienert, he makes wines with clarity and brightness, that over deliver on quality. His time in Burgundy has influenced his approach to chardonnay, and he strives for “mouthwatering flavours and precision with fine, clean lines”. He looks for freshness and energy in the reds.
Lehmann, his wife Sarah and their two small children reside on a vineyard in the Eden Valley. He and Sarah showcase wine and olive oil from their property under the label Max & Me.
Lehmann deeply values relationships and is the first to acknowledge the tutelage he has received along the way from industry greats such as Brian Walsh, Louisa Rose, John Vickery and Robert O’Callaghan. He states with humility, “I have been fortunate to stand on the shoulders of giants.” Though one suspects that it was impossible to ignore Lehmann’s determination, self-reliance, hands-on approach and inquisitive mind.
His depth of knowledge across all areas of the industry has no doubt been the key to his success. One can only dream what his future will hold.