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Bellow (in full) is a speech by Will de Castella, given for the Rutherglen Wine Growers Association in October of 2008.It was the 100th anniversary of the introduction of the Durif to Rutherglen by ,Will de Castella’s Grandfather Francois. The speech was delivered at a centenary dinner held at the All Saints Winery.

A Centenary of Durif

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests and members of the Rutherglen wine growers Association.

Thank you Kevin for your kind introduction and to the Rutherglen winegrowers Association members for inviting both Heather and myself to be here tonight to represent the descendants of Francois de Castella and to help celebrate this the 100th anniversary of the introduction of Durif to Rutherglen by my Grandfather.

It gives me a great sense of pride to look back at the achievements and work of my grandfather Francois, and I will relay some of them to you, but first I would like to say that I feel privileged to be here amongst today’s generation of enthusiastic wine producers, and some the oldest and most recognised wine families in Australia, with your unbroken links to the beginning of this country’s great wine industry. We all know its had its ups and downs, its booms and its busts, and yet despite all the challenges here we are gathered in this fantastic setting at one of the best known institutions All Saints to celebrate the centenary occasion of the introduction of a single variety, the Durif as it is known in Australia.

This is truly a great occasion and one well worth celebrating, not only for the introduction of Durif, or for the work of Francois in and around Rutherglen as Viticulture expert at the end of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th century, but because it is occasions like this that help us to acknowledge the fact that Rutherglen, one of Australia’s oldest wine growing regions is as rich and as diverse in its wine culture as many other great wine regions around Australia and indeed the world.

Tonight we celebrate the introduction of Durif to rutherglen and the solid foundations laid down with passion and enthusiasm by people like Francois, and the forbears of many of you here tonight.

You the Vine growers and wine makers of Rutherglen can stand on your own merit with the your highly acclaimed Tokays and Muskets recognised around the world, and yes for the Durif

People from all over can tell story’s of their trip to Rutherglen, on the Red Rattler, of couples on push bikes traveling from winery to winery loading their panniers as they go, of groups of wine loving friends on bus tours as I did earlier this year with my brother Rob and friends at your harvest festival, and last year with all four brothers on a brotherly get together (well perhaps an excuse to get together and try some wine).

My Great Grandfather Hubert also traveled to Rutherglen, going from vineyard to vineyard in horse drawn buggy with wine loving companions. I would like to read this passage from his book “Notes of an Australian wine grower” written by Hubert in the 1880’s.

A Sale of Wine

A few minutes out of Rutherglen, one of the little towns created in the Victorian countryside by the discovery of gold, a German vine grower cultivated two acres and a half. Peacefully set on rich soil in which no precious metal was found, his vineyard contrasted with the churned up land just alongside, marking the long gold baring reef which is now exhausted and abandoned. It was the output of this vineyard that caused the whole industry to take another step forward.

Having set out just a few weeks ago to travel through the vine growing districts of Victoria, in order to get information about the different methods of fermentation adopted by the vine growers I went and visited this vineyard.

I was accompanied by a friend, and the obliging host of the inn from which we made trips to the surrounding vineyards used to drive us about in his buggy. As he was one of the few closer friends of our somewhat misanthropic vine grower, we were relying on him to get us into the place. This was difficult enough at any time, but on this day all the more so, because it was Sunday, and as we had already visited several vineyards we were arriving at nightfall.

On the way our host told us of the wine sale that bought a small fortune to the master of this little property.

R.., the Vine grower, until then had clung to his casks like a hen to her chickens, and had never sold until his back was to the wall, in few cases only because he was forced by the few creditors who supplied his humble needs

It was his mania. Selling his wine was a heart break for him. Consequently when one of his barrels was put up for sale it used to fetch a good price, even when other vine growers could not sell theirs. Besides, the man was an expert, and if he was so keen on keeping his wine, it was because he rightly had a very good opinion of it.

When the wines of the colony increased in value his friend, our driver, persuaded him to try a big coup, and got some samples sent to Melbourne. The later, being satisfied with the quality, and at the same time warned of the need for prompt action, arrived with a bill of sale with only the figures and signatures to be filled i. He had 7000 gallons of wine and 42000 francs, was accepted. And yet as our host told us , ten minutes later the seller did not want to part with his casks and asked to annul his contract.

Going by all this, I expected to be met by some tough old workman with tousled hair and every inch a miser. What was then to my surprise when, coming to meet, I saw a middle-aged man of average build whose old fashioned but neat clothing, white linen, and well polished boots immediately revealed orderly and regular habits. Mr. R looked more like a teacher or a book lover than a farmer. I was introduced to him my name as a vine grower assured a good reception, he had been in Switzerland and we exchanged a few words of German. After a handshake we were friends, and he went to fetch the key to his cellar from his little home.

The cellar was a simple shelter with two long walls of axe hewn planks and a roof of bark. It held four rows of casks, mostly hogsheads which had brought brandy from France. A few feet away from the candle which had to be lit to show us our way we could see, through the gap between two rough edges of bark in the roof, the deep blue of the sky and its scattering of stars.

My host had bought a glass. Beginning at my request with the white wine, he put his wine taster, which was the finest and best kept anywhere, into the barrel which I picked for him at random. I do not know whether it was the long drive, the late hour of the day, or the pleasure of finding a well made wine in a place where we expected a sweetened one like most of the district, but his wine seemed like nectar to me. We tasted cask after cask, each better than the last. What was there was the product of only the last two harvests, all the wine from previous harvests being sold at the same time. After the whites it was the turn of the Reds, which were all excellent too.

Hubert around that time had his 300 acre Vineyard, St Hubert’s in the Yarra Valley and his brother Paul alongside at Yering had 260 acres. Both achieved great acclaim. In 1882 St Hubert’s won at the Universal Exhibition in Melbourne a seven piece silver guilt epergnes worth 25,000 francs that was offered by the emperor of Germany for “The Australian Exhibitor whose artistic and industrial progress is best displayed by the qualities of his product”. While his brother Paul at Yering won the grand prix at the Paris Exhibition.

Its stories like these, and I am sure there were many more, as this was truly a golden age for the burgeoning Australian wine industry. And having been educated as to the proper consumption of wine and all of its virtues, I would be certain that the seeds of ambition toward that romantic wine industry, were planted in Francois at very early age indeed.

On January 16 1867, six years after Hubert de Castella settled in Australia, the first of his eleven children was born. He was Francois Robert de Castella literally born in to wine; he was my Grandfather and was destined to become the “Oracle of wine” as he was called later in his life, perhaps today a MASTER OF WINE!.

He was raised in the Yarra Valley at St Hubert’s, his early education was at Xavier College in Kew, Hubert is reported to have said “I will only send my son to your school if he is allowed to have a glass of wine with his meal”, to ensure a compete education I am sure.Unfortunately by the time I attended wine was no longer available at the canteen.

From there his life was a passionate journey in the wine industry, and one that treated him as well as he treated it, and indeed a journey that lead him to recommend Durif for Rutherglen!.

After Xavier Francois was sent to Europe and studied at the College of Fribourg then natural science at Lausanne University in Switzerland and of course vine growing and wine making in Bordeaux before returning to Australia. He took over the running of St Hubert’s in 1886 at the age of 19 until it was sold to the partners. In 1890 at the age of 23 he was appointed temporarily as Vine Expert for the Victorian department of Agriculture. At the age of 24 he published his book Handbook of Viticulture for Victoria. From 1892 he was engaged in wine production at Tongala in the Goulbourne Valley and later managed Dookie Estate for the bank. In 1907 he was appointed again as Viticulture Expert for the department of Agriculture and served as Viticulture Commissioner in Europe and Africa. He went to Europe principally to obtain information on the control of the phylloxera mite as it had become a major pest; he subsequently introduced the grafting of traditional varieties on to American rootstock. He also bought back the sherry “flor” culture for making Sherry, apparently swiping it from the side of a vat with his handkerchief whilst in Spain, I’m sure customs would have him today. I am also sure that on his journey he met with Dr Francois Durif, always being on the lookout for new varieties, and subsequently, the reason for this memorable occasion, he recommended that Durif be grown in Rutherglen, and a small plot was planted at the research station. He is reported to have had up to 400 different varieties in his lot from which he would make wine in two and five gallon containers. One of which most likely was Durif and another he recommended for Rutherglen Mondues.

His legacy is visible throughout Victoria, from a plaque hanging at Tahbilk , to the Francois de Castella trophy at the Melbourne Wine Show, in countless books on viticulture. He was awarded by the French the honour of “Officer du Merit Agricole” for his outstanding services to Viticulture, and the list goes on. No wonder he did not get married until the age of 56, after wich he had 3 children, my father Rolet being the eldest.

At the time of his passing in 1953 eight years before I was born, Tom Seabrook wrote “Francois was a delightful companion, a famous teller of good stories and a great lover of wine who retained a good palate surprisingly, despite his ageing years”. And Frank M Read also wrote “There was never anyone quite like “Cas” He was a friend of all who knew him. To know him was an education”.

Today there are two of his Grandchildren taking his legacy of passionate wine growing, to the next generation of de Castella’s.

Myself at Yea in the Upper Goulbourne Valley or Yea Valley as I like to call it, with my Organic/Biodynamic certified vineyard Jean Paul’s that I began to establish in 1995, much to the delight of my father Rolet. I remember walking through my newly established vineyard with him hypothesising on what might be, and talking about what had been before. Unfortunately he passed away before my first vintage. In 2007 at the great Australian Shiraz Challenge my 2005 Shiraz came equal fourth out of 416 shiraz wines, it was the best 2005 vintage and we were awarded best Australian Shiraz under $25.00.

My brother Louis de Castella at Heathcote with Louis de Castella wines where he is currently building a straw bail cellar door and resurrecting an acre or so of shiraz opposite pink cliffs, the cellar door should be opened soon.

But more to the point he is survived in the wine industry by all of you; the passionate Australian wine growers and wine lovers of Australia.

In closing I would like to once again thank the wine growers of Rutherglen for inviting Heather and myself to be a part of your celebration, and congratulate you on the quality of your wines and in particular the Durif. I am sure Francois would be impressed, and remember “From little grapes big wines grow”.

Will de Castella

 

 
After being inspired by his grandfathers work, Will de Castella planted his first acre of Shiraz grapes in 1994. Today Jean-Paul’s Vineyard is NASAA certified Organic / Biodynamic using the principles of Biodynamics to make our own fertilisers for the vineyard & farm.