Mount Pleasant is one of the Hunter Valley’s most awarded and iconic wineries. The bulk of the success enjoyed in recent years can be attributed to the hard work and prodigious winemaking talent of the recently retired Chief Winemaker, Phil Ryan. Throughout his stewardship, Mount Pleasant was awarded a staggering three championships, more than 169 trophies and 3194 medals, including 645 gold medals.
Since 1921, there have only been a handful of Chief Winemakers at Mount Pleasant. The revered and celebrated Mount Pleasant founder Maurice O’Shea held the role between 1921 and 1956, followed by his successor Brian Walsh, who oversaw the winemaking until 1978.
Earlier this year Jim Chatto became only the fourth Chief Winemaker at Mount Pleasant. While everyone in the wine community welcomed Jim’s arrival and looked forward to a new era for the iconic winery, there was also some sadness, because his arrival coincided with the retirement of the legendary Hunter Valley winemaker, Phil Ryan.
Phil Ryan joined the McWilliam’s team when he was just 19 years old and worked for the winery for over 48 years. He was appointed to the position of Chief Winemaker at Mount Pleasant in 1978 and worked in close quarters with O’Shea’s successor Brian Walsh, who stayed on and worked with Phil until 1985.
Phil says that his time at Mount Pleasant and with McWilliam’s has been a hugely significant part of his life.
“I was there for a very long time. My career began at McWilliam’s in the ‘60s and I was involved with Mount Pleasant from day one, at the offices in Pyrmont. My first trip to Mount Pleasant was in 1967 and then, in the Hunter Valley, there were no restaurants, no accommodation, no sealed roads and just six wineries. It was very tiny and different to what it is today. The thing I’ve enjoyed most has been being a part of that enormous growth.”
Incoming Chief Winemaker Jim Chatto acknowledges the huge debt owed to Phil Ryan by Mount Pleasant and the wider Australian wine community.
“Phil Ryan has been a great champion of our region, an enormously accomplished winemaker and mentor to many. I am deeply honoured to be Phil’s successor and be part of the incredible wine story that is Mount Pleasant.”
Phil’s position at Mount Pleasant was preceded by more than a decade spent honing his technical skills in the company’s laboratory and quality control areas in the old McWilliam’s headquarters at Pyrmont, Sydney.
“I lived in North Bondi and was in the Tamarama Surf Club. When I got a job at McWilliam’s in Pyrmont, all I wanted to do was go surfing! I just wanted to go to the beach. But seriously, from a very early age I aspired to be Chief Winemaker at Mount Pleasant. It has always been the top job and I very much aspired to fill it."
These years in the laboratory led to a scientific skill set that helped make him a leader in modern quality and fermentation control processes, as well as an expert in the prevention of oxidation and spoilage.
As well as his undeniable skill and knowledge as a premium winemaker, Phil was recognised as an expert as a judge at international and Australian wine shows for many years- including Sydney, Canberra, Hobart, Hunter Valley, Cowra and Pan Pacific (Hong Kong).
Phil also served on the Board of the Hunter Valley Vineyard Association- Australia’s oldest wine association- for almost twenty years.
In 2006, Phil’s extensive contribution to the New South Wales wine industry was recognised with the prestigious Graham Gregory Trophy. In 2009 he was also made a Hunter Valley Living Legend, an honour for Phil and a fitting recognition of an amazing career in the region.
Phil’s retirement as Chief Winemaker paves the way for an exciting new direction for the iconic Hunter Valley winery, but his long and remarkable career remains a proud legacy for future winemakers at Mount Pleasant. He says that it is up to new Chief Winemaker Jim Chatto and whoever follows him to keep Mount Pleasant true to its past.
“The key to Mount Pleasant is to honour its beginnings, its roots- and its roots are the vineyards. Winemakers are custodians of those vineyards. That is the history, the chalice, that has to be maintained. Where we have come from, it’s where we have to stay."
Though Phil has passed on his winemaking responsibilities, he stays on as an Ambassador for McWilliam’s and Mount Pleasant, continuing his involvement with the winery with which he has enjoyed a half century involvement. He also has his own vineyard in the Hunter Valley, Ryan Estate,
“I live with my wife Sylvia and daughters Vanessa and Stephanie at our own vineyard, which is very close to Mount Pleasant,” says Phil. “We planted it in 1988. I’ll always be in the industry, involved at Mount Pleasant and doing my own thing as well. I grow grapes and I always will, as long as I’m around.”
The whole Mount Pleasant and McWilliam’s team would like to thank Phil for his monumental contributions to the winery and the Hunter Valley region.
The Mount Pleasant Phil Ryan range are available at the new online Cellar Door.