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July 08, 2012

RAISING A GLASS TO WINE’S ‘MR MICK’

 

David Ellis

FOR South Australian winemaker Tim Adams, buying the Clare Valley's historic old Leasingham Winery this month with wife and business partner Pam Goldsack was not so much a business decision, but a homecoming.

Because it's allowed him to achieve what so many starry-eyed young hopefuls dream of: from starting as a bottom-of-the-ladder teenager, to 36-years later becoming the owner of the business in which he started his career.

The Leasingham Winery dates back to 1893 when a diverse group of South Australian professional and businessmen decided to plant grapes in the already-flourishing Clare Valley and buy a failed jam factory that they would convert into a winery. The fact that none of them had any idea whatsoever about winemaking was neither here nor there.

The group included German-born merchant Joseph Knappstein, solicitor Magnus Badger, a brewer John Cristion and the aptly-named Doctor Otto Wein-Smith; to make up for their lack of viticultural and winemaking expertise, they engaged a Mr Alfred Basedow – a European-trained winemaker – as both General Manager and Winemaker.

And somewhat unimaginatively they called their venture The Stanley Wine Company after their local electoral district.

Their first vintage in 1895 produced 11,350 litres, and the next year they built a cellar under their jam factory-cum-winery to store a much larger production. As their vineyards flourished – and other growers brought fruit to them for making into wine – they added more cellaring space, and by 1903 were producing over 378,000 litres of wine from most of the annual grape harvest in the Clare Valley.

Joseph Knappstein, the most enterprising of the group bought out his partners in 1912, and after his death in 1919 his family continued to run the company until they sold a controlling interest in 1971 to the American baked bean maker, the H.J. Heinz Corporation.

The Knappsteins retained key positions within The Stanley Wine Company, however, and held shares in it until 1976, by which time the company had grown far beyond what its original owners could ever have dreamed of.

And it was producing not only premium wines but the-then new-fangled Stanley Wine Cask.

With demand for the Wine Casks booming, the Heinz Corporation in 1984 bought the huge Buronga Winery on the NSW side of the Murray River opposite Mildura and expanded it even more to make the Casks there, while in 1988 the Hardy Wine Company bought the premium Clare Valley facilities. It also spent $2-million upgrading the Winery and it's Cellar Door, and developing gardens and picnic areas for visitors.

It renamed the winery Leasingham Wines and continued to produce premium wines there until 2009 when it moved this production to McLaren Vale and closed the old winery.

Throughout much of all this, Joseph Knappstein's successors had continued an involvement in the winery he'd had helped start in 1893, including his son Mick Knappstein who worked as a winemaker there for an incredible 57 years – and earning himself after his retirement in 1985 The Order of Australia for services to the wine industry.

And it was during his stewardship that a local schoolboy, Tim Adams wrote a letter seeking employment in the winery. Tim had sent the letter to many other wineries as well, but it was Mick Knappstein who recognised the enthusiasm of the writer and gave him a job as a cellar hand in 1975.

'Mr Mick' as he was known, nurtured the young Tim, even giving him financial assistance to do a Bachelor of Applied Science (Wine Science) by correspondence at Charles Sturt University; Tim graduated in 1981 and by that time was Assistant Winemaker to 'Mr Mick,' and the following year was made Winemaker responsible for day-to-day operation of the winery that then employed 60 people.

This month Tim and wife Pam Goldsack take over the empty Leasingham Winery as its new owners. They'll re-open the Cellar Door, visitor gardens and picnic areas, and while continuing to run their existing Tim Adams winery in the Clare Valley, will make select wines at the historic old winery and crush fruit under contract there for other growers.

Their wines will include 'cleanskins' that they make and donate all profits from to the Variety Children's Charity – and a new label that will appear around mid-June.

Appropriately it will be called 'Mr Mick.'

 

 

PHOTO CAPTIONS:

 

[] HISTORIC Leasingham Winery now owned by Tim Adams Wines – rose from a defunct jam factory that went belly-up in the 1880s.

[] TIM Adams in his own original winery in the Clare Valley.

[] TIM Adams Wines' picturesque Ladera Vineyard (its Spanish for 'ladder.')   Vertical

[] TIM Adams Wines' picturesque Ladera Vineyard (its Spanish for 'ladder')    Horizontal

 

(Please credit vineyard images to Frances Adams. Others supplied.)

 

 
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