Brewer and winemaker Phil Sexton is a legendary figure in the Australian drinks industry.
He founded Matilda Bay Brewing Company, Australia’s first craft brewery, in 1983.
After Foster’s acquired Matilda Bay, Phil went on to co-found arguably the country’s most influential craft brewery, Little Creatures.
He established Margaret River winery Devil’s Lair in 1981, and in 1997 came his foray into cooler climate wines in the Yarra Valley, where he created the Innocent Bystander and Giant Steps brands.
Phil has had a very eventful 18 months. In October 2019 he shocked the brewing world when he announced he would relaunch Matilda Bay from his base in Healesville, partnering with the brand’s current owner, Carlton & United Breweries.
And in August 2019, he announced the sale of Giant Steps to US company Jackson Family Wines.
The deal follows his successful exits from Devil’s Lair, sold to Southcorp – now known as Treasury Wine Estates – in 1996; Little Creatures, which was floated on the stock exchange in 2005 before being wholly acquired by Lion; and Innocent Bystander, which he sold to Brown Brothers in 2016.
In a long overdue interview on the Drinks Adventures podcast, Phil updates us on the goings on at the reborn Matilda Bay, as well as Giant Steps, post the sale.
We touch on some of the earlier chapters in his career and get his thoughts on recent industry developments such as the sale of Yarra Valley winery Oakridge to Woolworths subsidiary Endeavour Group, and the demise of his former employer in the US, Bridgeport Brewing Company.
And the conversation goes down a few other rabbit holes that I hope you enjoy exploring as much as I did.
There’s a few earlier episodes of Drinks Adventures that I recommend you listen to after today’s episode, if you haven’t already.
In Season 1, we met Janice McDonald, who worked alongside Phil at Matilda Bay, Devil’s Lair and Little Creatures, so that’s essential listening for another perspective on those early years.
And in Season 2, our documentary on Stone & Wood Brewing Company, whose co-founders Brad Rogers, Jamie Cook and Ross Jurisich were previously involved with Matilda Bay.
First off in today’s episode, I asked Phil how he came to the decision to sell Giant Steps, a company revered for its single vineyard expressions of pinot noir and chardonnay.