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Tahbilk's 150th birthday surprise (Sept 2010)

Societynews brings together Tahbilk’s current winemaker with fourth-generation descendant of François Coueslant, winemaker from 1877 to 1886.

Alister Purbrick with Paul Couselant in London

Wine Society member Paul Coueslant told us that his family had always known about his great grandfather’s time at Tahbilk and had followed the estate’s fortunes from afar. When he read the ‘Tahbilk, 150 not out!’ article in our March newsletter and saw that Alister Purbrick, the property’s CEO and winemaker, was coming to London as part of their 150th anniversary celebrations, he was prompted to get in touch.

François Coueslant

Paul’s great grandfather, François Coueslant, described as ‘a practical vigneron from France’ was taken on to manage the property by the then owner, John Pinney Bear. François was a man of progressive ideas who changed the physical landscape of the vineyard and was responsible for constructing Tahbilk’s distinctive pagoda-style tower.

Paul Coueslant filled us in on his great grandfather’s history: ‘François Coueslant was born in the village of Dolo, Brittany in 1841, an illiterate peasant orphaned at the age of six. After serving in the French navy, he eventually moved to south-east France with his elder brother, educated himself, developed an interest in the vine when he was a property manager near Dieulefit and established himself as a vigneron. He married my great grandmother, a Scottish girl, before they emigrated to Australia in the 1870s. I don’t know what prompted them to go, whether he sought the opportunity or was sought after, but he became one of a handful of respected French vignerons who were instrumental in taking the Australian wine industry forward in the second half of the 19th century.

‘They had three children in Australia, including my grandfather Leopold. Sadly, François died in Australia at the fairly young age of 51 and within months the family migrated to his widow's home town of Aberdeen in Scotland. My branch of the Coueslant family has been in the UK ever since.’

‘Alister Purbrick kindly invited me to join them at the anniversary gala dinner in London. It was an emotional evening for me, feeling I was representing François at the event four generations down the line, especially when the shiraz from the 1860 vines was served. These are vines my great grandfather would have watched, nurtured and saved from phylloxera in his time. An extraordinary connection, and a lovely shiraz.’

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