Jackson Family Wines (JFW) is expanding Down Under, inking a deal to acquire Giant Steps winery in Australia’s Yarra Valley in Victoria from founder Phil Sexton. The purchase includes the Sexton and Applejack vineyards, about 75 acres total. The winery and cellar door (Aussie for tasting room) are currently under sublease to JFW, while the winery's popular restaurant in Healesville, Victoria, is not part of the deal. Sexton, who is also the winery's general manager, and chief winemaker Steve Flamsteed will remain at Giant Steps, and long-term vineyard contracts will remain in place. The purchase price was not disclosed.
"Our family is excited to be a part of the Yarra Valley community and help build upon the incredible legacy of Phil Sexton and Steve Flamsteed," Chris Jackson, one of the second-generation proprietors of JFW, said in a statement.
"This partnership brings us the relationships and careful resources of a great wine family who are committed to vineyards, sustainability and faithful expression of site," Sexton told Wine Spectator.
The deal is a strategic move for JFW. It expands the company’s Australian portfolio and vineyard holdings in a way that doesn't compete with its other properties, adding an exciting brand in an emerging category in Aussie wine of fresh, cool-climate wines.
Sexton founded Giant Steps in 1997. He's both an Australian wine pioneer and an innovator, known for creating, building and then selling brands. Originally a brewer, Sexton co-founded Matilda Bay Brewing Company in 1983, selling it to Foster’s Group in 1990. He shifted to wine when he founded Devil's Lair in Western Australia's Margaret River wine region in 1985. He sold the company to what is now known as Treasury Wine Estates in 1996.
Anticipating what would become a new movement in Aussie wine, Sexton sought cool-climate wine expressions, moving to the Yarra Valley and creating Giant Steps. It's named for the famous album by jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. The brand, under Steve Flamsteed's winemaking, became known for exceptional single-vineyard and regional bottlings of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The wines have been on Wine Spectator's Top 100 list and featured at the New York Wine Experience. Current production is 30,000 cases annually, with plans to grow to 35,000.
Stay on top of important wine stories with Wine Spectator's free Breaking News Alerts.
Sexton also founded Innocent Bystander in 2003, which focused on value-priced wines from the Yarra Valley. He sold that brand to Brown Brothers in 2016.
Sexton calls the move a new chapter for Giant Steps. "With JFW, we are hoping that we can increase the footprint of our wines available in the U.S. Cool-climate Pinot and Chardonnay from the southern parts of Australia are still new to many wine lovers in the U.S., and we believe that JFW's passion for these styles will help us take these wines to them," he said. "We feel that the future for Giant Steps is just beginning."