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Chateau Tahbilk

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In 1860 Melbourne businessmen, including John Pinney Bear, formed a company to create a vineyard on the Goulburn River, with the grand aim of planting a million vines. The site chosen was referred to by Aboriginals as "tabilk-tabilk" meaning "place of many waterholes".
Construction was commenced and completed on the original Winery building and underground Cellar in 1860 by Ludovic Marie, the first of a series of Swiss-French managers and winemakers at Tahbilk (the early European village feel of Tahbilk can be put down to his influence). Marie planted 25 hectares of vines in the same year, which grew within 12 months to be 80 hectares with the first small vintage occurring in 1861.
The next major development came in 1875 with the construction of The "New Cellar", running at right angles to the 1860 Cellar. Excavated in just 12 weeks by James Purbrick (a third cousin to Reginald who was to purchase Tahbilk some 50 years later), 20,000 cubic yards of soil was removed by horse drawn carts (one of which is on display in the original cart-sheds opposite Cellar Door).
The Swiss-French impact then continued with Francois Coueslant, considered in his day to be a most knowledgeable vigneron and progressive farm-manager, taking on the General Managerís role from 1877 -1888. He was responsible for, amongst many innovations, the construction of the distinctive Tower (1882) that surmounts the original Winery building and features on current Tahbilk labels.
It was Coueslant who, it is believed, added the "h" to Tahbilk in 1878 along with the word "Chateau" - this European moniker being dropped in 2000.
Early success was realized by Tahbilk with its wines achieving worldwide recognition including the Diploma of Honour, the highest award obtainable at the Greater London Exhibition of 1899; along with First Order of Merit and Medals in Philadelphia, Paris, Bordeaux, Calcutta, Brussels, Amsterdam, Dunedin, Adelaide and Melbourne.
The appearance of Phylloxera in the vineyard in the late 1800's (a vine louse that attacks the roots of grape vines and which decimated the European vineyards and Victoria's burgeoning Wine industry of the day), coupled with the death of John Pinney Bear (1889) and departure of Coueslant (1888), lead to a period of decline in the fortunes of Tahbilk.
In 1925 Reginald Purbrick, entrepreneur and later Member of the British House of Commons, purchased the property from the Bear family (who had become the sole owners) with the idea of rooting out all vines and subdividing it into dairy farms. Finally persuaded that the winery was viable he offered it to his son Eric, then a law and history student at Cambridge University, who took over management and winemaking responsibilities in 1931.
Faced with the dual problems of the Great Depression and lack of public interest in table wine, as well as his own viticultural inexperience, Eric succeeded in becoming an innovator in the wine industry and was the first to market bottled wine under its varietal name in Australia.
Eric was joined by his son John in 1955, and John's son Alister - a graduate of the Winemaking Course at Roseworthy College, took over the role as winemaker and General Manager in 1978 and continues to this day.
The company is currently registered as Tahbilk Proprietary Limited.
Sources used to compile this entry: Information provided by RMIT, MBIT student, Catherine Nolan.
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Structure based on ISAAR(CPF) - click here for an explanation of the fields.Prepared by: Bruce A. Smith
Created: 17 July 2000
Modified: 1 May 2005

Published by Archive Research Consultancy, 1999-2006
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Updated: 3 December 2006

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