The Weekend Australian
Wine’s the real deal for ex-Macquarie banker
Richard Price spent much of the pandemic gazing out at pretty rows of chardonnay, pinot and sauvignon blanc vines stretching out from his country cottage, with the occasional red fox breaking cover to scamper across his vineyard and lap at the spring-fed dam.
He could almost forget the health crisis was burning through Victoria last year while bunkered down in the cool-climate amphitheatre of the Macedon Ranges and with dozens of cases of crisp white wine to keep him company.
Well, there are worse places to sit out a one in 100 year pandemic.
And it certainly beats being stuck in a stuffy deal room arguing over spreadsheets and asset valuations, which is where Price spent a lot of his 24 years of his career at Macquarie Bank’s Melbourne office, almost half of that as an executive director, leading some of the then investment bank’s biggest deals.
But that’s not to argue winemaking is any less pressured than deal making. Price, now the owner of Macedon’s Rill House along with his wife Caroline Aebersold, a director in management consulting at a top four accounting firm, puts as much of` his heart, passion and reputation on the line in producing a wine as he did in executing a merger.
“You feel like you are putting yourself out there personally,” Price tells The Weekend Australian. “It’s very exposing, very humbling, and you are putting yourself on the line. People can like it or not like it, but thankfully we are producing some really nice fine wine and the reaction has been really positive.”
The reaction has been more than just positive. Selected to star on the wine list of Melbourne’s Flower Drum, Alla Wolf-Tasker’s Lake House in Daylesford, Becco and regional gem Brae, owned by chef Dan Hunter, the Rill House wines have started to gain the attention of wine lovers and sommeliers.
Price and Aebersold bought Rill House eight years ago, missing the open for inspection but later visiting the estate, and then bidding for it on a hotly contested phone auction.
The couple started their own label in 2015 after initially selling grapes to high end labels in the Macedon region.
Their first vintage was 500 bottles of chardonnay. It grabbed the attention of wine judge James Halliday and others, giving the pair the confidence to quickly expand.
Now with six acres of vines, production has built up to boutique level and is about 200 cases of chardonnay, 200 fume blanc and around 100 dozen cases of pinot.
The wines have whimsical names such as My Deer Bride and Dashing Red Fox, the latter inspired by the foxes that sometimes dart across the vineyard.
On reflecting about his experiences with investment banking versus running a winery, Price has found things he values in both endeavours.
“On the investment banking side you are exposed to a team,” he says.
“I was exposed to wonderful people and transactions, client strategy, and we had the opportunity to pursue those, affect some of those transactions that made a strategic difference to a particular client. That was wonderful.
“But frankly those transactions could go on for six to 12 months.
They were confidential. You couldn’t talk about them to anyone and at the end of that period you were elated at the success but also relieved.
“Whereas in the vineyard, yes there are some similarities but a couple of things that I think stand as different. It is quite a personal experience, so you are not as team-orientated. Yes you have a small team and we have a great couple of winemakers, Loic Le Calvez and Matt Harrop, and couple of guys working the vineyard, that is our team, but it is quite personal and humbling — when you offer your own produce from your own property to your friends, colleagues and the general public — we put so much personally into it, so you do hope to get a positive reaction.”
During his investment banking days he was one of the longestserving executives in the Melbourne office for Macquarie Bank. Price worked on the multi-billiondollar merger of Rio Tinto and CRA, the restructure of the dairy and forestry sectors and numerous energy deals. His colleagues through more than two decades at the bank included current Macquarie Bank chief executive Shemara Wikramanayake, Peter Yates, David Dix, Simon McKeon and Michael Burn.
He still has an interest in the finance world. Price serves on the investment committee of Conscious Investment Management and has helped direct capital to impact investment projects such as disability housing.
Price remembers working with Wikramanayake when she did her tour of duty at the Melbourne office, seeing qualities in her that would eventually help her take on the top role at the $55bn international investment bank.
“We are very good friends. She came down to Melbourne for a few years in the corporate advisory business and we worked very closely together amongst others in our team. She is just a wonderful person, great listener, smart, very thoughtful and cut-through. She makes really good decisions and manages people well.”
Price often catches up with Wikramanayake and other exMacquarie Bank executives at an informal dinner club called ‘‘the oasis’’ which she helps to run.
“Once we were all in our office, in Melbourne, we had a long office and our boss at the time came down and said ‘jeez’, making a disparaging remark, ‘this is a bit of a desert down here’. I turned around and said, ‘no, it’s not a desert — it’s actually an oasis!’.”
And Price has served his Rill House wine at the oasis dinner. The reaction was good, he says, with his former colleagues happily signing up for membership of his Rill House wine club — another good deal done.
‘It’s very exposing, very humbling, and you are putting yourself on the line’
RICHARD PRICE WINEMAKER