Army Officers Swan It Up as Pioneer Winemakers; Wine with David Ellis

Article excerpt

IT'S a safe bet that when three British Army officers who had served together in India bought a farm block in the Swan Valley outside the fledgling township of Perth they wouldn't have realised that wine lovers across Australia would be raising a toast to their venture in November of this year a 175 years after they'd made their little investment.

Thomas Yule had retired from the army to settle in Perth and in 1836 convinced mates Ninian Lowis and Richmond Houghton to join him in an investment in the Swan Valley. In deference to Houghton's seniority as a Lieutenant Colonel, they named their property Houghton a but interestingly Houghton himself never visited Australia, and although Lowis called into Fremantle on his way to the eastern colonies he, too, never bothered visiting his Swan Valley investment.

Yule established fruit orchards and planted grapes for making into raisins, and being a raconteur and home-entertainer also made his own wine for regular dinner parties. But he fell on personal hard times in the mid-1850s and sold his interest in Houghton to his partners, who in turn sold out in 1859 to the Colonial Surgeon, Dr John Ferguson.

The highly regarded Ferguson, a Scot who reputedly was the first person in Australia to use anaesthetic in 1849, had a scientific interest in winemaking and in his first year at Houghton used Yule's grapes and winemaking equipment to produce the property's first commercial wine.

It was just 115 litres but its sales success in Perth prompted him to expand his vineyard a and to buy an adjoining property which he appointed his son Charles to manage. While wheat and fruit had been successful on both, the Fergusons decided to concentrate on grapes for making into wine and raisins and by 1866 had 6ha under vines.

Charles Ferguson took over the full company reins in 1875 and five years later won the prestigious Order of Merit at the 1880 Great Melbourne Exhibitiona[degrees] the first of countless accolades that would see his little winery flourish and prosper into the ultimately most-awarded in Western Australia.

And interestingly he developed a small business relationship with a winemaker in South Australia named Thomas Hardy who had founded Thomas Hardy & Sons, and who acquired some of Charles' raisins, writing to him afterwards a(they) are the best I have seena[degrees] finer than any from Mildura and much larger than any we have ever had herea[degrees]a

Little would Charles have foreseen that 83 years later, Thomas Hardy & Sons would become the owners of his Houghton property. …