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10 Years of Australia’s First Families of Wine

Australia might be classed as part of the ‘New World’ of wine, but it is actually home to some of the oldest grape vines in the world. We also have winemaking families dating back three, four, five and even six generations. These are causes to celebrate and that’s exactly why 11 of Australia’s oldest family-owned winemaking businesses joined forces back in 2009. 

Comprising Brown Brothers, Campbells, d’Arenberg, Henschke, Howard Park, Jim Barry, McWilliam’s, Tahbilk, Taylors, Tyrrell’s and Yalumba, Australia’s First Families of Wine was launched at the Opera House with the commitment, current Chair Stephen Henschke describes, “to really change the narrative about Australian wine.” 

The need for action arose because, Stephen explains, “Even a decade ago, (Australian wine) was not receiving the kudos and respect it deserved.” Instead, he says, Australian wines were perceived as “‘sunshine in a bottle’, ‘industrial’, ‘lacking history and heritage.’” 

sharing stories

Pictured above: Tyrrell's vineyard

Over the past 10 years, the group has travelled the globe, telling the story of their incredible heritage – “We collectively have over 1,312 years of winemaking experience,” Stephen says, and such has been their success, he adds, “We no longer have to make our apologies, rather share our stories and premium wines. They speak for themselves.” 

For fellow founding member, Bruce Tyrrell, this elevation of Australian wine has been one of the group’s greatest achievements, particularly, he describes, “Breaking down the words of the UK press who were saying all Australian wine was industrial and we had no real identity or quality.” 

Celebrating the group’s 10th birthday has been a time of reflection for some of the other original members too, and a common theme shines through. For d’Arry Osborn of d’Arenberg, the most enjoyable part of being in the group is, he says, “The friendship of the whole thing.” While the families are in competition, d’Arry explains, “I’ve had nothing but help from our competitors and it’s been fantastic to be able to get together and collaborate with the original families in the Australian wine industry.” 

Robert Hill-Smith of Yalumba agrees, saying, “Team-based collaboration (has meant we’ve) made an impact wherever we go as ambassadors.” Reiterating d’Arry’s words, he adds, “We learn from one another, there is no jealousy.” 

Bruce is of the same mind, explaining that a great advantage of the group is, “Being able to discuss points that you would normally go to a consultant to discuss. We all face the same problems in our businesses and our families so we get better answers from within the group.” 

the next gen

​Pictured above: The ‘Next Gen’ arm of Australia’s First Families of Wine

Of course, the past decade has seen some big changes where Stephen, d’Arry, Bruce and Robert have witnessed not only the maturation of their vines, but also of their children and grandchildren. 

Nurturing the next crop has always been part of the group ethos and has seen the birth of the ‘Next Gen’ arm.

This group, Stephen explains, “Bring a fresh perspective to all of our businesses. They are the face of our rapidly changing world, whether it be retailing, restaurants, social media or the power of online.” 

For Bruce, forming the ‘Next Gen’ has given them confidence in the future of AFFW. 

“Getting the younger generations together has been a great benefit for us all,” he says, “as they get to know each other, they can come to rely on the judgement of their peers and we are now approaching a time when my generation steps aside and they take over.” 

Speaking of the future, Stephen explains that the group is committed to evolution and will continue to educate and share their knowledge with the wine-loving world. And, throughout it all, he says, “We’ll continue making quality Australian wines that challenge benchmarks and set new standards for our wine community; it’s what we have always done and so it will go on. And, no doubt, we’ll welcome some new generation family members – the custodians of the future.” 

Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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