Have gone from be­ing a pen­ni­less Czech refugee to owner of a $75 mil­lion com­pany, Josef Chromy could have rested on his lau­rels. In­stead, he turned his at­ten­tion to mak­ing wines and put cool cli­mate Tas­ma­nian wines on the map. By June Lee

Epicure - - CONTENTS -

Josef Chromy of Josef Chromy Wines

There are few sto­ries as rivet­ing as that of plucky Josef Chromy, now 88, and no less a mav­er­ick than when he es­caped his Soviet-oc­cu­pied home­town. Although Pepik Chromy (Pepik is a diminu­tive of the name Joseph in Czech) had suf­fered a stroke in 2005, af­fect­ing his speech and hand­writ­ing, he's since un­der­taken in­ten­sive ther­apy and re­cov­ered sub­stan­tially. His metic­u­lous per­son­al­ity trait shines through in all his an­swers, es­pe­cially when he di­vulges his de­ci­sion mak­ing. “I was not sure at first whether it was a good idea to name a new wine busi­ness after my­self if I were to de­cide to sell the busi­ness one day. My team con­vinced me, how­ever, that my life story and con­tri­bu­tion to the Tas­ma­nian wine in­dus­try were unique and en­cour­aged me to use my name,” he quips.


Born in 1930 in Žďár, Cze­choslo­vakia, 20-year-old Chromy made a risky run from the Rus­sian oc­cu­pa­tion and got him­self to Tas­ma­nia to start a new life. He rose through many hard­ships, go­ing from an as­bestos worker to butcher hand, to start­ing the Blue Rib­bon Meat Prod­ucts com­pany, which turned over AUD75 mil­lion by 1992. At 64 years old, Chromy spot­ted an­other gap in the mar­ket. He says, “In 1994, I saw the Tas­ma­nian wine in­dus­try as very sim­i­lar to the meat in­dus­try in that it was un­der­go­ing ra­tio­nal­i­sa­tion where many par­tic­i­pants were un­der­cap­i­talised and un­able to achieve the economies of scale nec­es­sary to take full ad­van­tage of winemaking. I had 37 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in cre­at­ing scale, qual­ity, yield and new mar­kets and I did not want to waste it.” Through the JAC Group (Josef and Al­ida Chromy), he bought three es­tab­lished but strug­gling winer­ies: Heemskerk (Janz), Rochecombe and Buchanan vine­yards. In 1998, he also built, from the ground up, Ta­mar Ridge, a cut­tingedge vine­yard at Kayena which used Dr Richard Smart's Scott Henry trel­lis­ing, and quickly be­came the most suc­cess­ful win­ery in Tas­ma­nia. By 2003, he had sold off all his other winer­ies and bought Glen­wood Vine­yard, with 61 hectares of vines in Rel­bia, and this was to be­come Josef Chromy Vine­yard, Win­ery and Restau­rant/ Cel­lar Door.


“The most im­por­tant les­son in achiev­ing the wine style you want is to plant the grape va­ri­eties and pur­sue the wine styles best suited to your vine­yard. Then use tra­di­tional tech­niques with the as­sis­tance of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy to pro­duce ‘world class’ wines at good value to achieve a com­mer­cial re­turn,” en­cap­su­lates Chromy. He's been col­lect­ing wines since the 1970s, and his own cel­lar of 1,500 wines com­prises 95 per­cent Tas­ma­nian wine. It in­cludes Pipers Brook Ries­lings 1986 to 1992, Ta­mar Ridge Pinot Noirs 1999 to 2002, Jansz Sparklings 1991 to 1993, and Ar­ras Late Dis­gorged Ed Carr Sparklings 1998 to 1999.

Jeremy Di­neen, who was ap­proached by Chromy and his grand­son Dean to join full­time in 2005, con­curs on Tas­ma­nia's unique po­si­tion­ing. “We have a much longer and cooler ripen­ing sea­son that al­lows for the grad­ual ac­cu­mu­la­tion of del­i­cate flavours with the re­ten­tion of nat­u­ral acid­ity nec­es­sary for struc­ture and age­ing. The con­di­tions are bet­ter suited for grow­ing ex­cep­tional sparkling grapes than any­where else in Australia so there is a large em­pha­sis on tra­di­tional method sparkling as well as Pinot Noir and aro­matic whites, very dif­fer­ent to the full-bod­ied red wines that Australia is prob­a­bly best known for,” he ex­pounds.

Chromy im­mersed him­self into the process, to the ex­tent of co-devel­op­ing a pneu­matic Smart Plunger. Di­neen says, “Dur­ing the fer­men­ta­tion of red wines, the skins need to be sub­merged into the liq­uid to ex­tract colour, tan­nin and flavour. With Pinot Noir it is im­por­tant to do this in a gen­tle fash­ion via pigéage or tread­ing on the grapes with your feet. Joe was in­volved in devel­op­ing the orig­i­nal Smart Plunger, es­sen­tially au­to­mated foot, at his pre­vi­ous winer­ies and we have im­proved on the de­sign so it is fully au­to­mated and can be pro­grammed to op­er­ate with­out su­per­vi­sion.”

Chromy's wide-rang­ing palate can lead to in­ter­est­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions, such as when he in­vited Czech wine­maker On­drej Ve­sely to pro­duce the Josef Chromy ‘OV’ Ries­ling 2011 in his own style. “If you drink dif­fer­ent wine va­ri­eties reg­u­larly and be­gin to ap­pre­ci­ate how they de­velop over time then you are on your way to be­com­ing a wine con­nois­seur. I am in­tu­itive when tast­ing wine but still fo­cus on colour, nose, palate, tex­ture and fin­ish. I par­tic­u­larly en­joy Rhine Ries­lings. On a busi­ness trip to Ger­many in the late 1970s, I pur­chased 150 dozen of var­i­ous es­tates. I drank those wines for the next 25 years and found it very in­ter­est­ing how the wines de­vel­oped over time,” he re­counts.

While Di­neen tends to the win­ery's self-suf­fi­ciency and ini­tia­tives, such as a wa­ter treat­ment sys­tem to re­cy­cle waste wa­ter and in­stal­la­tion of 100kw of so­lar gen­er­a­tion on the win­ery roof, Chromy con­tin­ues to do what he does best – JAC Group has diver­si­fied to now in­clude wine pro­duc­tion, tourism and prop­erty de­vel­op­ment at Mt. Pleas­ant, Haw­ley, Shear­wa­ter, La­trobe and Kingston.

Visi­tors to Launce­s­ton are sure to no­tice award-win­ning de­vel­op­ments like the old Launce­s­ton Hos­pi­tal build­ing, which is now a 99-room ho­tel and mixed-use de­vel­op­ment. He's also grat­i­fied that his win­ery is win­ning awards that con­firm his be­lief that Tas­ma­nian wine is world class. This is fur­ther en­hanced by run­ning events like Ef­fer­ves­cence Tas­ma­nia which has been de­scribed as one of the best sparkling wine fes­ti­vals in the world and is fo­cused purely on Tas­ma­nian sparkling wine – some­thing un­heard of 15 years ago. Most im­por­tant to Pepik Chromy is that th­ese projects give back to Tas­ma­nia by em­ploy­ing lo­cal peo­ple and bring­ing recog­ni­tion.

Per­haps his Face­book post on the Hu­mans of Launce­s­ton page sums it all. “Over 67 years ago I came here with noth­ing but hope and am­bi­tion. Tas­ma­ni­ans wel­comed me and with their help, I have been re­warded for the chal­lenges and risks I have taken.”

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