Home > Wine World & News > Guides > Growers > Articles and interviews > Tahbilks 150th Anniversary Celebrations

Tahbilks 150th Anniversary Celebrations

It is a common misconception to think of Australia as having little history of any significance, but the story of Tahbilk, one of the country’s oldest family-run wineries, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, proves otherwise.

What 2005 means to me

Tahbilk’s story is one of innovation, entrepreneurship, survival and extraordinary continuity, one rarely witnessed in Australia’s wine history. Looking back at Tahbilk’s colourful history, the winery has much to be proud of: the largest single planting of the oldest marsanne vines in the world, its iconic 1860 shiraz block, five generations of family ownership since 1925 and the oldest family-owned winery in Victoria.

The wines have consistently featured on Society Lists for more than 50 years. The earliest entry in our ledger books dates back to 1960 with the inclusion of ‘a Hock-type hogshead from Tahbilk’.

The importance of place

Tahbilk is located in the Nagambie Lakes region of central Victoria. The property comprises some 1,214 hectares of rich river flats with frontage on the spectacular Goulburn River. Tahbilk has been identified as one of only six wine growing regions in the world where the mesoclimate is dramatically influenced by the inland water mass resulting in a cooler then expected climate and this, coupled with the unique red sandy loam soil which is high in ferric-oxide, has extremely positive effects on the quality of the grapes produced.

The vineyards are made up of 225 hectares of vines including Rhône varietals marsanne, viognier and roussanne for whites, and shiraz, grenache and mourvèdre for the reds. Alongside these are more traditionally grown varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, chardonnay, riesling, semillon, sauvignon blanc and verdelho.

The people

The origins of the estate can be traced back to John Pinney Bear who, in 1860, established the company and took the name Tahbilk from the Aboriginal ‘tabilk-tabilk’ meaning ‘a place of many waterholes’. In 1877, François Coueslant, considered the most knowledgeable vigneron and progressive farm-manager of his day, was employed as general manager. He was responsible for the construction in 1882 of the distinctive tower that surmounts the original winery and introducing irrigation.

Survival of the fittest

Tahbilk’s achievements haven’t been without obstacle, the largest of which was the phylloxera epidemic in the late 1800s. Over subsequent years floods, droughts, the Depression and the near collapse of the Victorian wine industry also hit the winery hard.

Tahbilk's distinctive tower

A new beginning

In 1925 Reginald Purbrick, Australian entrepreneur and later Member of the British House of Commons, purchased the property from the Bear family. (The Purbricks had actually had earlier connections with the property, James Escott Purbrick having constructed the underground cellar in 1875). Reginald’s son Eric took over management and winemaking responsibilities in 1931 and was then joined by his son John in 1955. John’s son Alister, a graduate of the Winemaking Course at Adelaide’s Roseworthy College, took over as winemaker and chief executive in 1979 and continues to this day.

The visionary approach of its founders is as alive today as it was in the early years and Tahbilk has led the way in a number of key areas. In 1931 they made the bold move away from focussing on fortifieds to concentrating on table wines. They were the first in Australia to introduce varietal labelling in 1952.

In 1953 Tahbilk Marsanne was selected and served at a luncheon for the Commonwealth Heads of State in the House of Commons as part of Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation celebrations. The wine was described in a newspaper review of the event as being ‘drier than Empire whites usually are….and could stand up to many Continental wines for flavour and genuineness’.

The descendant of this wine, which won’t have changed that dramatically from the one served to the Queen, is a regular winner in our Wine Society Wine Championship tastings and was described by head buyer Sebastian Payne MW as ‘one of wine’s great gifts to the world’.

Tahbilk’s commitment to making wines in an unswerving traditional style is, more than anything, what has earned them a loyal following and led to their achieving something of an iconic status. In the words of Australian wine writer and critic James Halliday, theirs is a ‘priceless inheritence’.

(March 2010)

Members' Comments (0)

There are no comments for this article.

By using this website, you agree that The Wine Society can place cookies on your device in accordance with our updated cookie policy

We now use a fuller range of cookies with the aim of providing you with a better service, as set out in our updated cookie policy. If you do not agree to this, you should alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or cease using the website.


4.4. Cookie Policy

By using The Wine Society website, you agree to cookies being used in accordance with the policy outlined below. If you do not agree to this, you must alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you or cease using the website.

The Wine Society uses cookies to enable easy navigation and shopping on the website. We take the privacy of all who use our website very seriously and ensure that our use of cookies complies with current EU legislation. The following guide outlines what cookies are, the types of cookies used on The Society's website and how they work.

You may alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you, but this will cause difficulties when accessing and using some areas of the site. Instructions on how to do this can also be found below.

4.4.1. What are 'Cookies'?

  • Most major websites use cookies.
  • A cookie is a very small data file placed on your hard drive by a web page server. It is essentially your access card, and cannot be executed as code or deliver viruses. It is uniquely yours and can only be read by the server that gave it to you.
  • Cookies cannot be used by themselves to identify you.
  • The purpose of a basic cookie is to tell the server that you returned to that web page or have items in your basket. Without cookies, websites and their servers have no memory. A cookie, like a key, enables swift passage from one place to the next.
  • Without a cookie every time you open a new web page the server where that page is stored will treat you like a completely new visitor.
  • More recently, cookies have also been used to collect information about the user which allows a profile of their preferences and interests to be created so that they can be served with interest-based rather than generic information about available goods and services.

4.4.2. How do Cookies help The Wine Society?

Cookies allow our website to function effectively. Cookies also help us to arrange content to match your preferred interests more quickly. We can learn what information is important to our visitors, and what isn't.

4.4.3. How does The Wine Society use cookies?

The Wine Society does not accept advertising from third parties and therefore, as a rule, does not serve third-party cookies. Exceptions to this include performance/analytical cookies (see below), used anonymously to improve the way our website works, and occasions when we may team up with suppliers to offer special discounts on goods or services.

The Society uses technology to track the patterns of behaviour of visitors to our site. In this instance we use cookies of the types described in below (which are removed at the end of your session) and in below (which are removed after 14 months). These are always served as first-party cookies, operated by The Wine Society, not a third party.

4.4.4. What type of cookies does The Wine Society use?

We use the following three types of cookies: Strictly Necessary Cookies
These cookies are required for the operation of our website, enabling you to move around the website and use its features, such as accessing secure areas of the website. Without these cookies, services like shopping baskets or e-billing cannot be provided. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Authentication Cookie and Anonymous Cookie
    These cookies remember that you are logged in to your account – without them, the website would repeatedly request your login details with each new page you visit during your time on our website. They are removed once your session has ended.
  • SessionID Cookie
    This cookie is used to remember who you are as you use our site: without it, the website would be unable to tell the difference between you and another Wine Society member and facilities such as your basket and the checkout process would therefore not be able to function. They too are removed once your session has ended. Functionality & Targeting/Tracking Cookies
These cookies are used to recognise you when you return to our website and to provide enhanced features. This allows us to personalise our content for you. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookie:

  • Unique User Cookie
    This cookie is used to:
    • store your share number in order to identify that you have visited the website before. Without this cookie, we would be unable to tell whether you are a member or not.
    • record your visit to the website, the pages you have visited and the links you have followed. We use this information to make our website, the content displayed on it and direct marketing communications we may send to you or contact you about more relevant to your interests

This cookie expires after 14 months. Performance/analytical cookies
These cookies collect information about how visitors use a website, for instance which pages visitors go to most often, and if they get error messages from web pages. These cookies don't collect information which identifies a visitor. All information these cookies collect is aggregated and therefore anonymous. It is only used to improve how a website works. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Webtrends Cookie
    This is a first-party cookie enabling Webtrends to track, anonymously, where you visit throughout the site. Using Webtrends allows The Society to better understand how members use our site and monitor website traffic.
  • Google Analytics Cookies
    These are third-party cookies similar to the above, but used to enable Google Analytics to monitor website traffic. Like the Webtrends cookie, all information is recorded anonymously. Authentication Cookie
In order for us to ensure that your data remains secure it is necessary for us to verify that your session is authentic (i.e. it has not been compromised by a malicious user). We do this by storing an otherwise meaningless unique ID in a cookie for the duration of your visit. No personal information can be gained from this cookie.

4.4.5. How do you turn cookies off?

All modern browsers allow you to modify your cookie settings so that all cookies, or those types which are not acceptable to you, are blocked. However, please note that this may affect the successful functioning of the site, particularly if you block all cookies, including essential cookies. For example, In Internet Explorer, go to the Tools Menu, then go to Internet Options, then go to Privacy. Here you can change the rules your browser uses to accept cookies. You can find out more in the public sources mentioned below.

4.4.6. Learn more about cookies

4.4.7. Changes to our cookie policy

Any changes we may make to our cookie policy in the future will be posted on the website and, where appropriate, notified to you by e-mail. Please check back frequently to see any updates and changes to our cookie policy.