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Peatt, Edwin William (1915–2010)

by David Dunstan

Edwin Peatt, n.d.

Edwin Peatt, n.d.

Edwin Peatt, who rose from office boy to not only lead and expanded his company but become leader of the Australian wine industry, has died of heart failure in hospital in Kew. He was 94.

In May 1933, Peatt answered an advertisement placed by the wine and spirits company of Nathan & Wyeth for an office boy with a public school education and prepared to study accounting. He ended up as managing director and chairman of the company. This, in turn, led to the chairmanship of the Australian Wine Board (1976-1981). ''To do business or work with Edwin was an honour,'' said one of his business contemporaries, Simon Seward, of Taylor Ferguson. ''All he required was what he had - honesty, integrity and a firm handshake.''

Peatt, who had been to Scotch College, qualified, as did others. But as the accountant, Norman Marshall, who interviewed him recalled, it was the lad's firm handshake that got him the job.

Peatt, one of three siblings, was born in Melbourne. His father was a Collingwood boot manufacturer, but the business was sold, and when young Peatt left school in 1931 in the middle of the Depression, he faced an uncertain future.

It was ironic that the young man, who was raised in a strict Presbyterian home where no alcohol was allowed, had joined a wine and spirit firm. ''My mother nearly died,'' he recalled.

Nathan & Wyeth was a small import business nestled among lawyers and bankers in the old St James's Buildings in the city's west end, then home to Melbourne's liquor merchants. Lou Nathan and Fred Wyeth had gone into business before World War I as agents for the small Cognac house of E. Remy Martin. Both men enlisted, fought in France against the Germans and were wounded, before returning to their business. Remy Martin became a leading Cognac firm and a relationship developed, despite Scotch whisky being the main trade. Their war service was something the French principals never forgot.

The company faced more troubled years in World War II (1939-45), and Nathan died suddenly in 1940. Peatt, meanwhile, had become important to the business. Initially, Wyeth sought to have him reserved, but he later joined the RAAF.

The firm faced a dilemma with the Germans occupying France; supplies of French brandy had been cut off. The company sold Australian brandy under the Remy Martin name, while depositing royalties in the bank in the name of the French parent company.

Marshall retired in 1947 and Peatt became managing director in 1948. The Remy Martin relationship was resumed. But the Australian brandy had become a national best seller, and the two products, French and Australian, were deftly distinguished, the Australian becoming Remy brandy.

Following Wyeth's death, in 1958 Peatt added the chairman's title to that of managing director. More than 90 per cent of all wine consumed by Australians was fortified. But things were changing. Peatt directed his company's energies into expanding and developing the business. Table wine was part of this. The Brisbane trading company E. Rich & Co was acquired in 1959 to complement its Sydney office, Mac's Cyder (1961), H. Buring & Sobels of South Australia (Quelltaler Wines, 1969) and Robert Burns & Associates of Perth in 1978.

The wartime royalty payments put in trust remained, and a French-Australian joint venture for local production of Remy Australian brandy was proposed. Two years were spent looking for a suitable growing area and in 1962 Chateau Remy (as it was then known) at Avoca in the Pyrenees district of central Victoria was established, with John Robb as manager. The Victorian wine revival had begun.

Remy Martin increased its holding and in 1977 Vignerons, Distillers and Vintners Pty Ltd was created with Peatt as chairman and managing director controlling Nathan & Wyeth (now Remy Australia), Mac's Cyder, Buring & Sobels and Chateau Remy. Inevitably, the venture at Avoca turned to table wine, first with methode champenoise sparkling wine and then red wines, which today the Pyrenees is renowned for. Another subsidiary under his umbrella was Pimms Australia.

The 1960s and '70s were marked by changing consumer tastes, takeovers, multinational investment and greater interference by government. Previously, state associations controlled the trade. Now an industry leader, Peatt straddled associations encompassing the marketing of grains spirits and imported wine and also the producers of Australian wine and brandy, both of which had separate organisations at state and federal levels. He was a member of the Australian Wine Board from 1966, on its executive from 1972, and its chairman from 1976-81.

Peatt, who turned a small agency business into one of the largest, most successful organisations in the liquor trades, was appointed an OBE in 1981 for services to the industry.

A dedicated Rotarian, he was also a member of the Athenaeum Club, the Victoria Racing Club, Victoria Amateur Turf Club and the Melbourne Cricket Club. Peatt is survived by Nancy (nee Orr), his wife of 66 years, daughter Margaret Sahhar, and grandchildren Edwina and Andrew.

Reference
David Dunstan, Wine From the Hills: Australia's Pyrenees Region, Arcadia, Melbourne, 2001

Original publication

  • Age (Melbourne), 6 September 2010

Additional Resources

Citation details

David Dunstan, 'Peatt, Edwin William (1915–2010)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/peatt-edwin-william-15306/text26510, accessed 19 April 2021.

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