Ultimate Winery Experiences Australia

Keeping it in the family

Commercial viticulture (cultivation of grapevines) has existed across Australia since around 1850.   Relatively few original vines remain but the passion and commitment of those first Australian winemaking pioneers lives on today. In some cases, the traditions and culture that shaped some of the first wineries has been passed down from generation to generation of winemaking family and we are lucky to have an insight into Australian wine’s history through the families behind some of Australia’s most famous labels. The latest generation combine the passion, integrity and commitment of their parents, grandparents and beyond with technicial knowledge and ambition that will ensure their wineries live on for generations to come.

Here are some whirlwind historical summaries of UWEA members who continue to carry on the work of generations gone by.  In recognition of their heritage, all are members of Australia's First Families of Wine.  To really immerse yourself in the culture and history of our wineries, a visit to the cellar door, and beyond, is a must and many of our experiences incorporate a detailed history of the winery and vineyard.  

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One of the best-known wineries in McLaren Vale, d’Arenberg, was established in 1912 when teetotaller Joseph Osborn purchased the property.   Joseph’s son Frank joined him on the land and they set about acquiring some more vineyards. In 1921 Joseph Osborn died leaving control of the business to Frank.

Initially Frank sold the grapes grown in the vineyard to other wineries but in 1927 a winery was erected on the site and production of fortified wines for export commenced. Frank’s son Francis (known as d’Arry) left school in 1943 at age 16 to help his father run the business and work the land. Following his father’s death in 1957 d’Arry assumed total control of the business and launched a new wine label named after his mother Helena d’Arenberg, who died shortly after giving birth to him. d’Arry decided to put a red stripe on the label, inspired by happy memories of his school days at Prince Alfred College, where he wore the crimson-and-white striped school tie.

d’Arry’s son Chester joined the business in 1984 as Chief Winemaker, the third generation to join the family business.  Chester has made his own mark on d'Arenberg, producing distinctive wines that have received international recognition.

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The De Bortoli name has become one of the most recognised names in Australian wine and the family has purchased vineyards in many of Australia’s most famous wine regions.

In 1927, Vittorio De Bortoli purchased a 55-acre fruit farm in Bilbul near Griffith. Bilbul remains the headquarters of the De Bortoli family wine business. While Vittorio managed the vineyard, his wife Giuseppina worked behind the scenes. Vittorio and Giuseppina had three children, Florrie, Deen and Eola.

The family business survived the depression, and the difficult war years despite Vittorio being imprisoned for a short period for selling wine above his quota. As the war ended, normality gradually returned a consumer boom erupted and De Bortoli Wines began to expand in earnest.

In 1952, Vittorio's young son, Deen De Bortoli joined the family business. Deen was a visionary whose involvement in the business over the course of 50 years positioned De Bortoli as a major force in the Australian wine industry. 

The third generation of the dynasty, Darren, Leanne, Kevin and Victor are the current custodians of De Bortoli Wines and have continued to evolve the business. In 1987 the company purchased its Yarra Valley estate which is managed by Leanne and her winemaker husband Steve Webber.

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One of Australia's most beautiful and historic family owned wineries, Tabhilk, has remained in the custody of the Purbrick family for five generations since its purchase in 1925 by Reginald Purbrick. Reginald, or Reg, intended to uproot the vines and separate the property into dairy farms. Fortuitously, Reg’s son, Eric, had other ambitions. He took over the property in 1931 and over the course of the following 60 years, built Tahbilk into one of Australia’s most respected wineries, never losing sight of its heritage.

Between 1955 and 1979 Eric’s son John managed the farming at Tahbilk then left to built the marketing arm of Tahbilk Wines in Sydney. He eventually returned to Tahbilk to oversee the business as Chairman of the Board, while his son Alister introduced modern techniques to old wine-making traditions. 

Alister’s daughter Hayley will guide the winery into the 21 st century, ensuring that the winery exists now, and in future, in sustainable balance with its environment.

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Brown Brothers was founded in 1889 by John Francis Brown who, at the age of 18, established a vineyard on the existing site at Milawa in north-east Victoria.

In 1933, John Francis was joined by his son, John Charles Brown who grew the business to further establish Brown Brothers as a modern and innovative winemaking business introducing previously unheard of grape varieties to Australian consumers. 1958 John Graham Brown joined his father at the winery – the third generation of family winemakers at Milawa. Over the next few decades Brown Brothers expanded considerably under the leadership of John Graham, overcoming various obstacles to achieve greater and greater success. In 1994 John Charles celebrated his 60th vintage and his grandson, John Andrew joined his father and grandfather in the business, and not long after, his sister Cynthia. In 2001 Ross Brown, John Graham’s brother, was appointed CEO and continued the work of his family until his retirement in 2011.

To this day, the Brown family is instrumental in the management and direction of the Brown Brothers brand and the same qualities of innovation and experimentation have been passed down from generation to generation.  As they put it “Over the years we’ve seen many changes in the Australian Wine industry, yet the cornerstones of Brown Brothers remain constant. We’re still a family business; still hand-crafting wines.”

 

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