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Wirra Wirra On The Wall, Who’s The Most Famous Visitor of All?

By Wednesday 23 May 2018No Comments

Wirra Wirra CEO Andrew Kay talks about the day Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visited the winery – and about the surprising reaction in China. This article was first published in Bell Ringers newsletter…

It was a clandestine email approach.

The Prime Minister is visiting McLaren Vale next week and would like to make a major announcement at Wirra Wirra.

Sure. Why not? As long as we’re not seen to be favouring one political bent over another… And you must keep it top secret. You know, hush, hush. Slightly more problematical. I mean, someone had to be told. Lawns needed to mowed, cellar hands needed to be briefed – as it were – to have their shorts covering their backsides and, as I wouldn’t be around, Smithy would have to be clued in and step up to host Mr Turnbull.

Then there is the Wirra Wirra Tribe. When it comes to leaking classified information, they make Julian Assange look like Colonel Sanders.

But why us? Maybe he’s heard about the coffee at Harry’s Deli? Possibly wants to do a Shiraz Revolution tour – you know, let the closet lefty shine? Hey – the Cabinet might want to use the RS Wigley Room to meet? The occasional passing forklift will drown out any non-conforming dissenters in the room.

But the simple fact was, South Australia was in election mode. And so it happened that Malcolm Turnbull, then Liberal Opposition Leader (now Premier) Stephen Marshall, Federal Senator Anne Ruston, Local Member candidate Andy Gilfillan and a band of helpers with media pack in tow, converged upon Wirra Wirra one Saturday morning.

Naturally, the one time the leader of our fair country graced our doorstep to make an announcement concerning free trade and export, I’m on a plane to Guangzhou, China. Irony not lost on me.

No sooner had I landed than the pictures started coming through and links to media coverage – even the PM’s Facebook page posted a video for all to see. But that wasn’t the interesting part. Not for me anyway – 7000km away and without so much as an Insta post or snap of me and The Member for Wentworth to show my mother.

The real highlight was the reaction when I mentioned it to the people I was travelling with in China. In Australia if you said “The Prime Minister is visiting Wirra Wirra”, the responses would run the full gamut of “That’s fantastic” through to “Don’t let him anywhere near Church Block, I’d still like to be able to drink it” and everything in between.

It’s such a sensitive matter depending on your allegiance that I found myself warning the marketers before I left about any potential social media posts. Don’t show any bias either way. All comments to be generic. Lest we should incur the wrath of 50 percent of the population who would descend upon our Facebook page like a plague of keyboard locusts.

However, in China they have a different spin on the Government than we cynical Aussies. Sharing a few pics on my phone of Big Mal plunging the cap on a cabernet ferment and ringing The Angelus Bell induced gasps of awe and new-found respect. At least that’s how I took it.

Before the next evening’s formalities, I suggested they slip a new slide into the PowerPoint presentation that is used as a prop while I speak, featuring the ‘Trumble’ visit to Wirra Wirra. After talking a bit about who we are, our history, McLaren Vale, James Halliday 5 Star rated winery etc. I’d casually pull up the images and give it a whirl. Which I did. The response was a spontaneous outburst of applause. Interesting.

Next night, different city, another dinner and by now ‘Turbo’ has gazumped Halliday in the presentation pecking order. Same response. And so it went. By the end of the week my spiel went something like this – “Ni hao, my name is Andrew Kay from Wirra Wirra. The Prime Minister of Australia, Mr Malcolm Turnbull visited our winery last weekend. Here are the pictures. Pause. Thank you. Please queue in an orderly fashion to buy your wine. Good night.”

Well, something like that.

The timing of this visit was extremely fortuitous. The only query from the Chinese was always as to why I wasn’t in any of the photos? When I explained it was because I was flying out to visit China at the time, this drew murmurs of sympathy and hopefully an extra case or two on the order form.

China – its culture and people – never fail to surprise, delight and challenge on our travels. As a Shanghai-based colleague recently pointed out to me, “China is a book worth reading a thousand times.” I’ve been visiting for over a decade now and I’m learning every single time I set foot in the place. It’s now our largest export market and growing at a rate in a different league to the others.

President Xi Jinping passed a law that will effectively rule out political terms of office – he has the job for life. That’s something that Sugar Bun* could only dream about. Thankfully the PowerPoint program has an easy to use cut and paste facility which, given the Australian political landscape, will no doubt come in handy some day.

*His nickname in China. Turnbull sounding like tang (sweet) bao (bun)”.

WBM – Australia’s Wine Business Magazine has published a 26-page feature on China in the May-June issue. To subscribe visit



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