Blass, who has released his biography to mark his 75th birthday this month, arrived in Australia from Germany in 1961 with 100 British pounds in his pocket and a knowledge of wine, having studied and worked in Europe’s wine industry for 13 years.
After making sparkling wines for several years, he set up his own winery in South Australia’s Barossa Valley in 1966, creating his own self-named label that has become one of Australia’s best-known wines, selling 65 million bottles globally a year.
But Blass said when he arrived in Australia it was “like a hill-billy country”, with the men drinking beer and the women at home, not drinking at all, and no real wine industry.
Australia is now the fourth largest wine exporter in the world, selling about 700 million litres of wine each year, with award-winning Blass credited for helping shape the nation’s wine industry.
“It was my philosophy to get women to participate, and without this I don’t think I would have made it because today women determine what will be on the table,” said Blass.
“I admire that I was smart enough to realise that without the opposite sex, we were never going to get there. I just love women. I always have.”
Blass traces the growth in Australia’s wine industry back to the arrival in the 1960s of immigrants from Germany, Italy and Greece, who introduced table wines to Australia.
Blass himself became known for revolutionising the red wine industry, blending different grape varieties from different regions and adding oak to make the wine more fruity.
DRIVEN BY DERISION
A born marketer who wears a trademark bow tie, he chose a yellow and brown label for his wines to reflect the colours on the football field and horse track.
At first, the newcomer from Germany met some resistance but he was determined to succeed, having left Germany where the war had decimated all industry and commerce.
“The criticism did me and my team a great favour because the more we were criticised, the more we were determined to succeed. I was a very ambitious young man,” said Blass who outlines his childhood in his biography, “Wolf Blass, Behind the Bow Tie”.
“My style was very different and we started to dominate the wine shows in Australia until it became obscene. This was in red then we started in white and became the No. 1 Riesling maker.”
Blass used to boast that his wines could “make strong women weak and weak men strong.”
He sold his business Wolf Blass Wines Ltd to Mildara in 1991 to form Mildara Blass which was bought by Fosters Brewing six years later. He is now is the globe-trotting ambassador for his label, giving him time for his other two passions – horse racing and ski-ing.
He sees the Australian wine industry reaching a crossroads as so many people from all walks of life have joined the trade.
“We have 2,300 winemakers today but many of these will not be around in three or four years time. They’re in it for tax or other reasons but you can’t have so many brands,” he said.
“To export, you have to have a strong brand and finance behind you. Enthusiasm is not enough to succeed in the competitive market today, especially when there is an oversupply.”
As for Blass, he can’t see himself stopping work or giving up his favourite drink, Riesling.
“My doctor says my liver is perfect, my cholesterol is perfect. I must have a concrete tank in my body and that is good news,” he said.