I had to miss his recent farewell for family reasons (he retires at the end of June, but I'm toasting him tonight with a glass or two of a special wine named in his honour).
His world changed when he dropped in on a friend who was working at a winery outside Adelaide.
“Walking in, I remember the aroma of the reds fermenting, the vibrant purple colour of the red caps... it was just like being in another world," he recalls.
He started a degree at the Roseworthy Agricultural College in the mid 1970s, first worked vintage at Berri Estate in South Australia’s Riverland region under two influential winemakers Brian Barry and Ian McKenzie and then, in 1976 - the same year as Jacob’s Creek was officially launched - he accepted a job with Pernod Ricard Winemakers (then G. Gramp & Sons), makers of Jacob’s Creek.
He was first based in the Barossa but was soon moved to its Griffith winery during a period of significant expansion. He oversaw the progressive move to sparkling wine production and varietal-labeled wines, and worked to produce the best possible wines from the region.
In 1987, Hickin's passion for white, botrytis (dessert) and sparkling wine saw him permanently relocated to the Barossa winery at Rowland Flat as the new operations winemaker. In 1994, he was made senior white and sparkling winemaker, and by 1997 was promoted to group white and sparkling winemaker.
Passionate, but quietly spoken and always available to the media, he became chief winemaker of Pernod Ricard Winemakers’ Australian wines, a position he held for a decade. From 2010, he took on the additional responsibility of promoting the Jacob’s Creek brand internationally.
His departure is being marked with the release of a special limited-edition wine: the 2010 Jacob’s Creek Limited Edition Shiraz Cabernet.
The bottle label features a pencil sketch of Bernard, and the release has been overseen by his successor, the new chief winemaker Ben Bryant.
“Bernard has made an enormous impact on Jacob’s Creek, ensuring the wines stayed true to style and excelled in quality over his 40 vintages,” says Bryant.
“In honour of Bernard’s contribution, we have selected this special wine, blended from 63% shiraz from our best Barossa vineyards and 33% cabernet sauvignon from our finest Coonawarra vineyards, and labelled just 1200 bottles with his name.”
The wine is billed as "the highest-quality wine made under the Jacob’s Creek label" and fewer than 900 of the special gift-boxed commemorative bottles will be available for sale at the Jacob’s Creek Visitors Centre in the Barossa Valley in Australia for $180 a bottle.
# The wine is a tongue-coatingly rich and intense red, but beautifully structured and still very youthful. It opens up expressively when given a few minutes of air. It will cellar brilliantly, no doubt, although it is bottled under cork, perhaps with an eye to the lucrative Chinese market.