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Ten Company Histories and Biographies of Our Wine Pioneers  - *(see note for details)

Review by David Farmer

In the wine business 50 years is too short for reflection while one hundred years spans several generations and covers a wide variety of trading conditions. Companies that are still family owned and trading after 100 years are the rare survivors and it was at this point that most of them commissioned a company history. Many great contributors to the Australian wine history, and to single out one, Alexander Kelly's Tintara, did not survive for long and we know little about them.

If we arbitrarily take 1850 for the start of the Australian wine trade then the period to 1950 would test any business. This time covers two world wars, two depressions, bank busts and recessions, loss of markets, a gold rush which took away the labour force, a strong temperance movement, changing consumer tastes, many crop failures, droughts and diseases (phylloxera was detected in Geelong in 1875 and proceeded to wipe out many Victorian regions), the need and costs of technical innovation, the effects of Federation, low prices, and periods of overproduction. It also gives plenty of time for two other major destroyers of businesses to develop; family feuds, and bad management.

Of the pioneering firms that grew to be leaders in the first 100 years; such as Seppelts, Lindemans, Penfolds, Orlando (Gramps), Hardy's and S. Smith and Sons (Yalumba), only the last is still in family hands. The smaller firms that have survived include Bleasdale (1850), Draytons (1853), and Tyrrells (1858).

Frank Potts arrived in South Australia on the HMS Buffalo in 1836 with Captain John Hindmarsh and it was likely that he was at the proclamation of the colony on December, 28th 1836. Frank was a remarkable man who took up farming in Langhorne Creek at a property he called Bleasdale in 1850 and later planted vines. That same year Thomas Hardy arrived on August 15th and by September 9th had taken a full time job with John Reynell, another great pioneer whose family firm did not make the century. [I have not found a record of how long Reynell's were involved with their company.]

By coincidence 1850 marks the year that Johann Gramp, then 31 years old and farming in the Barossa, made his first wine, 68 litres of white which he must have thought was in the Germanic style as he called it a hock. Across in Melbourne another migrant, Joseph Seppelt arrived with his family on the 17th January 1850 en route to Adelaide and by 1852 was living at Seppeltsfield. Joseph at 39 years of age was starting anew, and at a much older age than the other pioneers.

Two Doctors have enriched our wine history, both being born in 1811 and arriving within a year of each other; Dr Henry John Lindeman to N.S.W. in 1843; while Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold chose South Australia, arriving on August 8th, 1844. Both were well educated and it is assumed were motivated to come to Australia for different reasons than our other pioneers. Both were very interested in the medicinal qualities of wine and initially made wine to recommend to patients.

The five families Seppelts, Lindemans, Penfolds, Orlando (Gramps) and Hardy's, became the foundation for the first 100 years of Australian wine history. There are many other contributors of course such as Yalumba, Saltrams, Stonyfell, Normans, Hamiltons and from W.A., Houghtons and Valencia and a group of family firms clustered around Rutherglen such as Morris, but the main directions were set by these five companies.

What we know about these companies comes from commissioned histories which naturally do not cover topics that were considered delicate or were just not seen as important.

We are told about the main historical reference points and quite a lot about the wineries, equipment and buildings, indeed some books seem to be the history of a winery, but little about how the wines were sold and marketed.

Unfortunately and more importantly the personalities of the family members even those with key roles in the business are sparingly developed. A few descriptions of business incidents and occasional character insights are given though these do not build into a memorable depiction of any of the wine pioneers. We know almost nothing about how they steered their companies around the numerous business obstacles and no real business or financial data is recorded.

Also little mention is made of the non family employees, some of whom were very important in building these companies and you only have to think of Colin Preece (Seppelts), Max Schubert (Penfolds) and Roger Warren (Hardys).

All of these companies faced critical decision times, but we are left not knowing how these were handled? For example how did they handle generational change?

To know the foundations of our wine business you need to know about its historic underpinnings. The slimness of the volumes shows they were only ever meant to be brief sketches but they ask so many questions. Alas you cannot but feel sad about the details which we will never know.

To highlight just one quite recent, extraordinary example, consider this sudden change in how the Penfolds Company was managed. Frank Penfold Hyland died in 1948 and from 1949-1961 the Chair was passed to his wife Gladys. At the same time Frank's personal secretary, Miss Grace Longhurst became the Managing Director a position she held from1948-1960. Surely this is one of the few times, or only time in Australia when both the Chair and Managing Director of a major company have been women. This covered a time of great challenge in the Australian wine business straddling the consumer shift from fortifieds to table wines, a shift that Grace recognised.

The most recent of the books brings the Orlando story up to 1997 and serves as an example of the fast changes that have continued to take place in the wine trade. In 1997 Orlando took pride in Jacobs Creek as a major brand but the other brands, Orlando, Gramps, the Saints table wine range, and even the single vineyard Steingarten riesling are all given prominence in a manner suggesting they had a secure position in the future. Today the company has reduced itself locally to marketing 90% of wines as Jacobs Creek.

Over the long time that these histories cover, from 1847 to 1997, business and family difficulties compounded and steadily ground down the pioneers and one by one they were taken over by other drinks groups or food manufacturers. The evidence is everywhere that the new owners will do no better.

It's not that the future will be any more difficult it's just that today's owners will alas fall for the same hubris that fells all companies-they think they are better than they will prove to be. At times when caution is called for, self belief will foster marketing madness as they rush to drive the business forward.

Over the last few decades we have watched a terrible tragedy unfold as the new custodians of these brands drove them into the ground at record speed, many in under a decade. And yet it was not because business was so hard. During this time the wine trade has ridden the coming of age of wine, favourable tax advantages, record consumption and a huge export boom but it was still not enough. Thankfully our proud pioneers cannot look down on this wreckage.

While we recognise the long history of our pioneering families we seem to have failed to use this advantage in marketing and what that means for brand building globally I will discuss in another article.

The sad final stages of these companies is best summed up by the last line in the Penfolds history; "Penfolds, 1844 for evermore". Alas it was not to be and for most of the other families as well. If there is one given from this history it is that those in control at the moment will not see in the next hundred years. The next time someone says we must expand, our moment is now, it might be best to say why, and are you sure?

Recently I mentioned to some wine makers that Bleasdale was a remarkable company. They piped in unison 'But what have they ever done'. They survived and that is enough. Proof perhaps that following quietly is the best way for a long, healthy, business life.

* Details of Books

The Hardy Tradition Tracing the Growth and development of a Wine making family through its first Hundred Years. Thomas Hardy and Sons Adelaide 1953.

A Family Tradition in Fine Winemaking. One Hundred and Twenty Five Years of Thomas Hardy and Sons 1853-1978 Rosemary Burden. Published by the Board of Directors 1978.

Leo Buring Australia's First Wine Authority. Dr Philip Norrie. (Apollo Books) 1996.

The Orlando Way. A Celebration of 150 Years 1837-1987 Tony Baker (Published 1987, Gillingham Printers)

A Heritage of Innovation. Orlando Wines 1847-1997. Tony Baker (Peacock Publications, Anvil Press, September, 1997)

Bleasdale 1850-1986. Griffin press, South Australia

The Penfolds Story. Published by Penfolds Wines Australia Ltd, 1975. Story by Oswald L. Ziegler (Printed by Ambascol Press)

Penfold Time Honoured. The History of Dr C.R. Penfold and Penfolds Wines. Dr Philip Norrie (Apollo Books) 1994.

Morris of Rutherglen. A Celebration of 130 Years 1859-1989. David Dunstan. (Gillingham Printers, Adelaide, 1989)

The House of Seppelt. 1851-1951 1951 Adelaide (The Advertiser Printing Office)


Ten Company Histories and Biographies of Our Wine Pioneers  - *(see note for details)

Review by David Farmer

In the wine business 50 years is too short for reflection while one hundred years spans several generations and covers a wide variety of trading conditions. Companies that are still family owned and trading after 100 years are the rare survivors and it was at this point that most of them commissioned a company history. Many great contributors to the Australian wine history, and to single out one, Alexander Kelly's Tintara, did not survive for long and we know little about them. more...


Bouquet  - G. B. Stern
Alfred A Knoff, New York, Second printing, 1928 (First published June, 1927)
Review by David Farmer

I cannot recall how I got to know about Bouquet. I purchased a copy from a dealer on Amazon for $30.00. I read books like this to gain a better idea of how wine was thought about prior to say 1950-1960, before it exploded in popularity in the English speaking countries and turned perhaps a simpler pleasure into the scientifically studied beverage of today. more...


The House of Mondavi  - Julia Flynn Siler
Gotham Books, June 2007
Review by David Farmer

To build two large businesses in a lifetime is quite a feat but to do it in the wine business where it can take generations to become established requires outstanding talent. more...


What Can You Learn from Seven Centuries of Trade.
Sherry
 - Julian Jeffs
Faber and Faber Limited, London. First Edition, 1961. A revised second edition was published in 1970.
Review by David Farmer

Why would you want to read a book on an unfashionable drink like sherry? What would I find coming back to a book I first read in the mid 1970's? At the time of release it was much praised and subsequent editions came out in 1970 and 1978. more...


Notes on a Cellar Book  - George Saintsbury
Published in 1920 with numerous reprints. Reissued 1978 (Macmillan)
Review by David Farmer

This short book had an enormous impact on wine writing after publication in 1920 and was quoted extensively for the next two decades and was still referred to by wine writers in the 1960's. It may be seen as a forerunner of later books that taught you how to enjoy wine by personal reminiscing about wines and in this way guided readers through the maze of wine types and wine lore. more...


The Heartbreak Grape, A Journey in Search of the Perfect Pinot Noir  - Marq de Villiers
Harper Collins, 1993, Toronto, Canada
Review by David Farmer

Pinotphiles is the name given to consumers who are dedicated to the mysteries and flavour of pinot noir. No other grape variety has such a band of promoters and to satisfy their needs a dozen or so ‘pinot celebrations’ are held every few years in the old and newly emerging pinot regions. more...


The Romance of Wine  - H. Warner Allen
Ernest Benn Limited, London, 1931
Review by David Farmer

'When the Portuguese are really enjoying themselves, they sing and dance to a noise resembling that of a heavy bombardment, and in a festival in the mountains at Amarante I was completely deafened by the unceasing roar of about sixty sheepskin drums beaten furiously, broken by violent dynamite explosions.'

This is Warner Allen’s picture of the locals in the Douro region who enjoy letting off rockets with sticks of dynamite attached when celebrating. Any book that discovered a tradition like that has something interesting to say. more...


In Search of Wine, A tour of the Vineyards of France  - Charles Walter Berry
Constable and Company, 1935. Republished in 1987 by Sidgwick and Jackson
Review by David Farmer

In late 1934 Charles Walter Berry undertook an eight week tour through the vineyards of France and In Search of Wine is the record of what is considered a ‘famous’ journey. In the introduction to the 1987 reprint by Jancis Robinson, she notes that, ‘Walter made wine trade history by venturing into the cellars of those who supplied him,…in order to understand better the product he was selling and to survey, in unparalleled depth for the time, the French vignoble.’ more...


Ancient Wine, The Search for the Origins of Viniculture  - Patrick E. McGovern
Princeton University Press, 2003
Review by David Farmer

We do not know when humans first began to enjoy fermented wine beverages. Ancient Wine traces the origin of the deliberate making of alcohol back to the early Neolithic, about 7000 years ago. A seasonal or occasional drinking of alcoholic beverages probably goes back much further as many fruits collected in a container would ferment naturally. The current warm cycle of the ice age commenced about 10,000 years ago and this also marked a change, in a region of the Middle East, when humans turned from nomadic hunter gatherers to the first permanent settlements based around the cultivation of cereal crops. It is suggested that the earliest permanent settlements began in Eastern Turkey in the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. more...


In Praise of Wine  - Alec Waugh
1959, (Cassel)
Review by David Farmer

In Praise of Wine is a book of personal reminiscences about wine and follows the style of the educated amateurs who wrote before and immediately after the Second World War. This book though was published in 1959 and has crossed into an era in which wine books were beginning to contain detailed descriptions of wine regions and technical aspects of wine making, the forerunners of today’s large wine publishing industry. This in turn heralded the end of the amateur commentator. more...


Stay Me with Flagons  - Maurice Healy
Michael Joseph, 1949
Review by David Farmer

The English wine trade has given us many things, such as wine and food societies, a great depth of literature covering the descriptive and technical aspects of wine and wine regions, notably on French wine, a sophisticated wine auction system and more recently teaching schools such as the Masters of Wine. more...


The New France
A Complete Guide to Contemporary French Wine
 - Andrew Jefford
Mitchell Beazley 2002
Review by David Farmer

How strange to divide wine writers into a wine left or right. It will help you to enjoy the early chapters of this book if you have a soft left interpretation of the world wine industry, and enjoy railing against the globalisation of wine, the sameness of taste, the industrialisation of wine and a future driven by world wide brands. This book takes the proposition that the true way to make wine comes from those who bond with the ground, who work the vineyard night and day, break their backs, and by so doing achieve in almost a religious sense a bonding with the earth, the place and the wine produced. more...


You Heard It Through The Grapevine - Shattering the myths about the wine business  - Stuart Walton
Aurum Press, London, 2001
Review by David Farmer

There are a great many wine books written each year. The problem is that it is hard to come up with a new perspective to make a book stand out. The wine industry evolves slowly which means most books are derivative. In this case it would seem that the publishers asked for a book that reveals the hidden secrets of a business that some may see as being full of mystery, hence the sub title of this book. more...


The Classic Book on Cocktails
The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks
 - David Embury
the first edition was in America in 1948 and Faber and Faber published the first British edition in 1953
Review by David Farmer

Some books give you such pleasure that you always want them nearby. And in my adventures into drinks no book has impressed me as much or given me more pleasure than this masterpiece on the art of making cocktails.

There are dozens of books about making cocktails, rather like there are about food, but few are worth the cover price. None approach the quality of this classic book. more...


Terroir: The Role of Geology, Climate, and Culture in the Making of French Wines  - James Wilson
Mitchell Beazley 1998
Review by David Farmer

Any vineyard owner will tell you that certain areas of their vineyard make better tasting grapes than other areas. Why some areas of vineyards and vineyard districts deliver better grapes and hence better wine is the subject of terroir studies. The Europeans and particularly the French are very interested in this topic. They extend the meaning of the word which we can roughly say is the flavour effects that come from the vineyard location to include cultural ideas which unite man with the soil. more...


Penfolds-The Rewards of Patience  - Andrew Caillard M.W.
(Fifth Edition)
Review by David Farmer

In the simplest term this is a consumers guide to all the Penfolds red and white wines. The tasting notes cover wines made by Penfolds in the 1950's right through to the current releases. There are tasting notes for every wine, apart from the Rawsons Retreat wines, the Koonunga Hill whites and one or two others which I detect the winemakers wish they did not have to make under the Penfolds banner. Others wines such as the Penfolds Old Vine Semillon which were part of edition 4 have been dropped off. more...


Classification of Australian Wines  - Dan Murphy
Macmillan 1974
Review by David Farmer

I’m a bit of a collector of wine books and recently purchased a first edition signed by Dan Murphy and by the great Hunter vigneron Max Lake. It cost $20.00 from the Berkelouw bookstore on Oxford Street, Sydney, where I buy a lot of second-hand wine books. I first read this book in 1975. Back then it was seen as a bold attempt to classify Australian vineyards and wines in a hierarchical system similar to the French appellation classification. It was a very useful book. Thirty years on it acts as a timepiece and is worth reviewing to see how the wine industry has evolved. more...


Real Wine - The Rediscovery of Natural Winemaking  - Patrick Matthews
Mitchell Beazley 2000
Review by David Farmer

This is one of a number of wine books published over the last few years, mostly by English authors, which take the view that there is a correct way to make wine and this is only known and followed by a small number of dedicated winemakers. The core of the argument is that big company winemaking produces ‘industrial’ wines and these lack character, while true wine is made by the artisanal wine maker using tools and methods, often ancient, which reflect the unique character of the site. more...


Ten Company Histories and Biographies of Our Wine Pioneers  - *(see note for details)

Review by David Farmer

In the wine business 50 years is too short for reflection while one hundred years spans several generations and covers a wide variety of trading conditions. Companies that are still family owned and trading after 100 years are the rare survivors and it was at this point that most of them commissioned a company history. Many great contributors to the Australian wine history, and to single out one, Alexander Kelly's Tintara, did not survive for long and we know little about them. more...



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