No sour grapes in the vineyard for Murphy

IT WAS one of Melbourne's most spectacular father-and-son feuds. After 17 years working and squabbling with Dan Murphy in his wine-discounting business, Philip Murphy walked out in the late 1980s and started his own rival wine-retailing empire. Dan angrily shunned his son and they did not speak for several years, but the battle of the Murphys proved to be good news for Aussie wine lovers, who lapped up the proceeds of their price war. ''We had more stores,'' says Philip, ''but dad's were bigger.''

Events proved kinder to the younger Murphy: Dan - who died aged 83 in 2001 - spent the last years of his life wrangling in court with the tax department.

In contrast, Philip found himself with a giant share of $54 million when Coles launched a company takeover in 2001. That, too, ended up in a court case but eventually, at 55, Philip Murphy secured his money and retired with wife Jennifer. Since then, apart from a bizarre occasion in 2005 when a man with a dog stole his motor yacht, Premier Cru, and sailed it to Tasmania, Philip Murphy the wine discounter had dropped off the public radar.

So meet Philip Murphy the Main Ridge winemaker. Any day now, he and some pals will be harvesting the grapes from his two-hectare vineyard and, for the first time, he will put the resultant Philip Murphy Estate wines out on sale to the public. ''I'm testing the sugar levels regularly,'' he says. ''When it reaches 13 per cent, we pick.''

Murphy had no intention of growing grapes when he bought the property near Arthurs Seat as a holiday house in 2003 - the idea was raised by barrister Kevin Bell, now a Supreme Court judge, who had done the same thing at Balnarring. ''I don't know anything about making wine,'' Murphy retorted. ''Do a university course like I did,'' said Bell, and Murphy went ahead. Now he has a large room beneath the house (accessed, Hollywood-style, via a secret door in a bookcase) where he crushes, ferments and produces his vintages. He made his first in 2007 but until now has sold only to friends.

''We make about 100 dozen cases each of chardonnay and pinot,'' he says. ''It's enough to satisfy my curiosity, but whether we'll break even is a moot point.''

Looking out over the vineyard from the porch of the Murphy mansion, the view is stunning - from the blue waters of the hilltop swimming pool, wide lawns sweep down to the vines with the distant coastal strip and bay as a backdrop. The Murphys pulled down the original holiday cottage, built a magnificent new home with guest quarters and moved in permanently in 2006. Financially secure, Murphy would seem to have the ideal lifestyle, but only months ago a shadow fell. At a medical check-up his doctor noticed his prostate-specific antigen reading was slightly high and a specialist diagnosed prostate cancer. Before he had time to contemplate this, he was having surgery. ''You had no chance to think. Suddenly I was in hospital and my prostate was out. Hell, what happened there?''

At 62, Murphy is now watching his weight and having a check every three months in case the cancer returns. Nevertheless, the former discounter of wines is enjoying his new life making the stuff, something father Dan never contemplated. ''He'd be amazed,'' says Philip. ''He always saw me as the son who didn't know anything.''