A Young Man with a Dream.
February 23rd 1939-May 8th 2018
Between 1963 and 1966 a young man already well travelled began teaching in Lyon and Stuttgart.
This was a unique time in Europe when the regions had their own personality and there was a freedom and openess to western Europe.
While teaching in Lyon he would venture north to Burgundy and Beaujolais and south to the Rhone valley. These adventures would lead to a fascination with the vineyards and wines of France. So to in Stuttgart he would visit the vineyards and wineries of Baden-Wurttenberg and from then on he was hooked.
What fed this obsession with the grape was fourfold. The beauty of the regions he visited the fascinating people he would meet like Louis Garoux in Burgundy , the wonderful wine and food he would be introduced to and the fun of making the wine itself.
In 1966 he returned to Australia and met Heather his soon to be wife.
By 1968 they began looking for a suitable place to grow grapes and make wine around Toowoomba where he was raised and set up his law practice. That same year they came down to Stanthorpe and were introduced to Dick De Luca a gentle giant of a man of Italian heritage that poured for them a muscat wine made from his vineyard.
John and Heather shared the passion for wine and during this time John read extensively about wine and winemaking. From Max Lakes "The Flavour of Wine" from 1969, "Progressive Winemaking" by Peter Duncan and Bryan Acton from 1967, "Scientific Winemaking" by J.R.Mitchell from 1969 and "The Wines of Bordeaux " by E.Penning-Rowsell from 1969 .
One of the books "Australian Wine The complete Guide" by Dan Murphy (the man not the wine group that bears his name) published in 1966 may well have sparked the interest with particular passages underlined.
One poinigant passage is that wine " promoted peace and relaxation and stimulated conversation and prompted ideas that produced paintings and sculptures and theatre and literature". John being an avid painter himself and gaining an appreciation of the arts having returned from Europe.
From his tasting and research and with Heather they decided to buy a property in 1968 and planted vines in 1969.The first vines planted were Shiraz after the fashion of what he had seen in the Rhone valley where the grapevines were also planted on granite soils.
Having met Max Lake on a few ocassions he ventured to Lakes Folly to do a vintage in 1971. Here they would bunk down in a loft above the winery before helping with the vintage.
From the exposure at Lakes Folly, although 1971 was a very wet vintage, John saw the potential of Chardonnay first planted at Lakes Folly in 1969.
Coming back to Stanthorpe he brought with him cuttings of the Mudgee clone of Chardonnay (the original source of Chardonnay in Australia) from Pieter Van Gent now known as the Penfolds 58 clone. Planting Chardonnay along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir to compliment the Shiraz plantings. He made his first wine in 1974 called "The Family".
By 1975 his first commercial wine a red blend of Cabernet Shiraz and Pinot Noir won a Gold in the Brisbane Royal National Agricultural Show. In 1976 he made his first Chardonnay at that time amongst only a handful of wineries making Chardonnay in Australia it too winning a Gold Medal and White Wine of the Show at the local Stanthorpe show and a Silver in the 1978 Brisbane National Agricultural Show . The 1976 Pinot Noir also receiving a Silver in the Brisbane Royal National Agricultural Show. He also spent some time studying under Brian Croser and Tony Jordan at what has now become Charles Sturt University at Wagga Wagga.
From the early seventies to 1986 John was to bring his flair of winemaking to bear on successive vintages. The vintages of 1974,1979,1980,1981,1982 and 1986 all being standouts in terms of quality and staying power. I have tasted many of these wines some thirty years after they were made and can attest to the elegance, complexity and length. Some truly remarkable wines like the 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon (one of the greatest red wines I have tasted) and the 1981 Shiraz Cabernet that was voted amongst the to ten top wines of the country at the time by a particular wine writer.
John bought a quiet confidence and his talents to share with all around him. A gentle man in the best sense. With many great ideas from the introduction of the first appellation system in Australia "Ballandean Nouveau", to the Sanctuary Cove "Wine Race" , Bay Cooler , the first 'methode champenoise' Sparkling wine in Queensland and the first satellite cellar door. He was a true innovator and pioneer. He will be missed and cherished by all who knew him.