Hazel Murphy, a leading figure in the development of Australian wine in the UK, has decided to leave the Australian Wine Export Council. Murphy will remain with the Council until February 2003 to complete the Australia Day Tastings in UK and Europe.

However, Murphy will not leave Australian wine as she has accepted a directorship and European advisory role with an Australian wine company.

In a statement Wine of Australia said: "Hazel has decided that the time has come to spend more time at home in the North of England, in part for family reasons but also to undertake different projects working for herself."

Murphy opened the first Australian Wine Bureau office in London in 1986, but for several years had already been working with the Australian wine industry.

In 1985, the year preceding Hazel's full-time commencement, Australian wine exports to the UK totalled only 750,000 litres. They now stand at 190m litres - a 250-fold increase. And importantly, this success in the UK has been a springboard to other European and North American markets.

The statement continued: "Hazel's untiring efforts and contribution to our wine industry has been fundamental to the export success we enjoy today. Whilst accolades bestowed upon her, including the Maurice O'Shea Award in 1996 and Membership of the Order of Australia, have been richly deserved.

"Hazel's departure will certainly leave us with a big hole to fill in the UK and Europe. We intend to see her off in style at the end of what she says "has been one hell of a ride". We wish her well in her future work with Australia."

Meanwhile Murphy said: "It is so important that Australian wine companies continue to actively support the AWB-UK. We have a great team in Europe to build on the past successes with lots of new ideas and enthusiasm-that's what I have worked for and shall continue to support until I leave and long afterwards!"