There are only a handful of family-owned wineries in Australia that have the sense of history, the rich tapestry of characters and stories and the steadfast commitment for retaining tradition and vinous lineage as the Tahbilk winery in Central Victoria’s Nagambie Lakes wine region.
Established in 1860, making it the oldest winery in Victoria and the fifth oldest in Australia, the Tahbilk of today is the vision of five generations of the Purbrick family, who purchased the property in 1925.
There are around 200 hectares of vineyard on their 1,214 hectare property, which includes 11 kilometres of Goulburn River frontage and eight kilometres of frontage to the Goulburn’s permanent backwaters, wetlands and creeks. This is undoubtedly a land of untold riches. The Goulburn River and its anabranches cut a serpentine path through the landscape; a landscape that pulses with biodiversity and history. This is the home of the Daung-wurrung people and they chose well, calling the area ‘tabilk-tabilk’ or ‘place of many waterholes.’
The first vines – 65 acres – were planted in 1860 by the Goulburn Vineyard Investment Company and the cottages, sheds, stables and blacksmith shop seen on the property today were all constructed between 1860 and 1865.
Throughout the 1870s, with the takeover of the Bear family and the employment of winemaker/manager François Coueslant, more vineyards were planted, wine production boomed and an underground cellar was built. In a twist of fate, the contract for this was awarded to Escott James Purbrick, second-cousin once removed of Reginald Purbrick, who would later purchase the winery.
Success continued until the mid-1880s, when a series of setbacks hit. The vine louse phylloxera decimated the vineyards of Victoria in the late 1800s and economic and political factors saw a sudden decline in the fortunes of the Victorian wine industry in the first decade of the 21st century.
However, in June 1925, entrepreneurial gentleman and bon vivant, Reginald Purbrick purchased the property and the new era of Château Tahbilk began.
While Reginald had intended to remove the vines and divide the land into dairy farms, he was persuaded the winery was viable and offered it to his son Eric. Arriving in 1931 from England, where he’d studied law at Cambridge, Eric assumed the role of winemaker the same year. With the help of friends, local winemakers and industry legend Francois de Castella, Eric learnt as much about winemaking and marketing as possible while restoring the cellars and planting phylloxera-resistant vines.
The winery boomed under Eric’s leadership and he became a much loved ambassador of the Australian wine industry. By 1955, Eric’s son John was managing the farm and occasionally manning the cellar door and in 1960, Tahbilk celebrated its centenary – quite the affair with 250 guests.
Into the fifth generation
In the late 1970s, John’s son, Alister, having recently graduated from Roseworthy Agricultural College, and with several vintages at Mildara under his belt, took over winemaking duties from George Comi and became General Manager in 1978.
Alister balanced his knowledge of modern winemaking techniques with traditional wine style sensibilities and the quality of the wines at the estate soared.
Today, while Alister remains CEO, his daughter Hayley, the fifth generation of the Purbrick family at Tahbilk is involved in creating the future vision for the company. This includes developing Tahbilk’s Carbon Neutral and sustainability strategy.
The vision for the future set down by the current custodians ensures Tahbilk will continue to produce world class wines while treating their special patch of Victoria with a gentle hand and the utmost respect.
Celebrate 160 years with Tahbilk!
You’re invited to come and taste 160 years of winemaking experience at a series of special anniversary dinners. These once-in-a-lifetime dinners in Newcastle, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne will be hosted by Alister and Hayley Purbrick, fourth and fifth generation custodians of Tahbilk. Experience the beautiful ageing ability of Tahbilk wines, with aged examples, including their unique Marsanne, tasted alongside their younger counterparts. Event dates are:
MELBOURNE: Thursday 27th August
BRISBANE: Thursday 17th September
NEWCASTLE: Wednesday 25th November
SYDNEY: Thursday 26th November
To book tickets go to wineselectors.com.au/events.