Australia's Innocent Bystander Wines Sold

Yarra Valley Vintner Phil Sexton sells volume brand to Brown Brothers to focus on single-vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay label Giant Steps
Australia's Innocent Bystander Wines Sold
Phil Sexton (left), owner and winemaker, and Steve Flamsteed, winemaker, want to focus on their Giant Steps wines.
Apr 6, 2016

Australian vintner Phil Sexton announced April 4 that he has sold his Innocent Bystander label, which focuses on value-priced wines from Yarra Valley, to Brown Brothers, a large family-owned Australian winery also based in the state of Victoria. Terms were not disclosed.

The sale does not include Giant Steps, Sexton's label for single-vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, nor his company's winery, tasting room, restaurant, bakery and coffee bar in Healesville, Yarra Valley.

Sexton first earned notice as a winemaker in Margaret River, in Western Australia, where he established Devil's Lair in 1985 and built a reputation for rich, expressive Chardonnays. He sold Devil's Lair in 1996 to the company now known as Treasury Wine Estates.

Seeking a cool climate to produce leaner, brighter styles, he founded Innocent Bystander that same year and developed a following for Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Syrah sourced from vineyards in Yarra Valley, priced mostly at $12 to $20 and bottled with artistic high-contrast black-and-white labels. Production has reached 70,000 cases a year.

In 1998, Sexton started bottling single-vineyard Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from Yarra Valley sites. To set them apart, he created the Giant Steps label, which has grown to more than 5,000 cases and has consistently achieved outstanding ratings (90 points or higher on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale).

More recently, Innocent Bystander made a splash with sparkling Pink Moscato wines. Made from old-vine Gordo and Muscat of Hamburg grapes grown in warmer regions of Victoria and sold in standard 750ml and 375ml bottles and four-packs of 250ml bottles and 250ml cans, their success is one reason Sexton was ready to sell the brand.

"Phil wants to concentrate his full efforts on Giant Steps," said Gavin Speight of Old Bridge Cellars, his U.S. importer. "While he and [winemaker] Steve Flamsteed have always enjoyed the freedom of winemaking and the ability to experiment that revenue from Innocent Bystander allowed them, with Pink Moscato the brand has grown so quickly that it was consuming a lot more of their time and resources than they envisioned."

"To be honest, we have struggled to keep up," Sexton wrote in an announcement to employees. "Innocent Bystander is a fabulous brand and it has been a terrific experience, and a lot of fun, but now it's time to pass it on to someone whom we have a lot of respect for and who will take it from here to its full potential."

Brown Brothers is based in Milawa, in the Murray Valley of northern Victoria, near some of the main vineyards used in the Moscato. They plan to continue sourcing from Sexton's same regional suppliers and vineyards. "It was an ideal fit," said Speight, who will continue to import both brands.

Before he founded Devil's Lair, Sexton worked as a brewer, also in Western Australia. He partnered in the founding of several breweries there and later in Victoria. His White Rabbit brewery, across a parking lot from the current winery, closed in 2014 when Lion Nathan, which purchased the brand in 2012, consolidated production elsewhere. Brown Brothers bought the old brewery building to install a new Innocent Bystander tasting room.

Winery Purchases and Sales Australia News

You Might Also Like

Mitch Frank Named Senior Editor

Mitch Frank Named Senior Editor

The new title reflects  Wine Spectator ’s longtime news editor’s impressive contributions …

Aug 11, 2022
Festival Napa Valley Arts for All Gala Raises Over $3.9 Million

Festival Napa Valley Arts for All Gala Raises Over $3.9 Million

In addition to the auction, the festival drew audiences to over 60 concerts, many of them …

Aug 5, 2022
Lucio Tasca d’Almerita, a Champion of Sicilian Wines, Dies at 82

Lucio Tasca d’Almerita, a Champion of Sicilian Wines, Dies at 82

At his family’s winery, he gained global respect for Sicily’s terroir by trying internation…

Aug 4, 2022
Older Drinkers Most Likely to Reap Alcohol’s Protective Health Benefits

Older Drinkers Most Likely to Reap Alcohol’s Protective Health Benefits

Analyzing data from around the world, researchers found young drinkers are prone to risky …

Aug 2, 2022
Scorching Heat and Wildfires Worry European Winemakers

Scorching Heat and Wildfires Worry European Winemakers

In wine regions across the continent, spring was dry and summer has brought record …

Aug 11, 2022
France's AXA Millésimes Buys Platt Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast Region

France's AXA Millésimes Buys Platt Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast Region

The insurance company and global wine player expands into Sonoma with purchase of prized …

Jul 28, 2022