In the late 1990s, I recognized that U.S. consumers had an affinity for Australian wines but were largely uneducated about them. Few Americans could distinguish Australian regions and varietals, let alone the brands. Clearly, the U.S. consumer needed some direction. I became intrigued with the idea of getting involved in the business and set out to find the right partner.
I had long admired the work of Australian wine makers Chris Hatcher, Andrew Hales and Matt Steel, so first and foremost I sought out a partnership with them. The four of us found that we shared the same unpretentious view of wine, and Greg Norman Estates was born. We have created what we believe are distinctive products, and our success is truly the result of our great partnership. Moreover, I am proud, as an Australian, to have taken our wines into new markets, such as the United States.
The response to Greg Norman Estates has been tremendous, already exceeding our expectations. We aim to over-deliver from both a quality and a value perspective, and we're proud that every Greg Norman Estates wine reviewed by Wine Spectator has been rated "outstanding" or "very good." According to one survey, we have an 85 percent market share of all consumer purchases of Australian wines above eleven dollars. It's unlikely that we can maintain this momentum—the Aussie premium wine business is now growing fast—but given our success in Australia, over the next few years I think we'll be poised to develop a range of California wines, which would be truly groundbreaking. Few, if any, wine businesses have transported their brand from one region to another—in this case from Australia to the United States.
Naturally, when I opened a restaurant in 1999—Greg Norman's Australian Grille in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina—wine had to play a big part. At last count, the wine list there totaled 259 selections, 196 of which are visible through a window in the wine room.
In the future, I see us taking on other activities built around wine. I believe vineyards will become as important of an amenity as golf in certain real estate developments. We have already developed two courses and one residential community in glorious wine regions. Wente Vineyards, in Livermore, California, about forty-five minutes east of San Francisco, is a highly acclaimed public course on the Wente family vineyard, which dates back to 1883 and now ranks as one of the largest producers of white wines in the world. And The Vintage, about two hours north of Sydney, has a spectacular eighteen-hole course created to complement the area's unique natural environment, specifically the vineyards of the Hunter Valley, one of Australia's premier wine regions.
Already, through one of my companies, Medallist Developments, we are planning viticulturally driven golf course communities in New South Wales and Victoria. They will be destinations in their own right, each with its own Cellar Door restaurant, and the fruit from these properties will someday be put into production for Greg Norman Estates.
The connection between food and wine seems to me the crux of appreciating wine. I learned one rule quite some time ago, and I think it's the best advice you can give someone looking to broaden his understanding of that link: Never be afraid to experiment. Try different wines with different foods. Everyone has a different palate. And never be ashamed to try an inexpensive bottle. Experimenting is really the only way to truly understand what flavors and qualities you prefer.