With the recent announcement of the reopening of Lindeman’s Ben Ean winery by the McGuigan and Peterson families I thought it might be timely to look again at Henry Lindeman and his family and their great contribution to the Hunter and Australian wines more generally.
Restoring the Ben Ean property to its early roots is important to the Hunter; it was part and parcel of our history.
In recent times, the name “Lindeman” was lost in the multinational conglomerate wine business. Yet for many years they were leaders in the production of fine wines (remember those four number bin’s) as well as some well-known popular wines such as Ben Ean Mosel.
The Lindemans bought the Ben Ean Vineyard from J W McDonald in 1912, it had in fact been planted in 1870 by John McDonald an early pioneer who subdivided much of the land around Pokolbin and Cessnock for private development. The original House and winery were built in 1870.
Dr Henry Lindeman came to the Hunter long before this, moving to Gresford on the Paterson River around 1841 where he established a medical practice. In 1842 he purchased 816 acres at the auction of Trevallyn, alongside the Paterson River and set about building a slab cottage for his family and establishing a vineyard.
The property was called Cawarra – a local aboriginal term for running water. Lindeman planted Riesling, Verdelho, Semillon, black
Pinot, Hermitage or Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. In the following 8 years, his vineyard prospered. It was expanded to 40 acres and had a wooden slab cellar stocked with wine that was gradually ageing. Even then it was a family business with his brother Arthur coming from Jamaica to join him in the vineyard and help educate his children. He purchased two additional nearby vineyards and was actively engaged in the Hunter River Vineyard Association (HRVA) by 1850, subsequently becoming president from 1863 to 1870.
At their meetings, comparative tastings were made and members provided details of the wines they brought.
Report to the HRVA 1850 on Caewarra Wines – The red wine is made from the Cyrus grape, of the vintage 1849, fermented in open vats then casked; it has been racked four times, and the sample has been taken from a cask for the present occasion. The soil of the vineyard is a mixture of river sand and vegetable mould, subject to be occasionally flooded; the pruning is the spur method as adopted in France the age of the vines three and four years. The white wine is from the Rousette grape, grown in exactly the same soil, and subjected to the same treatment, as the red wine, with the exception that no skins were fermented with the must, H.J. Lindeman.
Lindeman had a philosophy based on quality not quantity and early release for a quick profit. He wanted “our connoisseurs to sip, taste and purchase… wine of superior quality”. This led him to store his wine for maturation before release. Unfortunately, in September 1851 an arsonist set alight to his cellar and some 4000 gallons of wine were lost along with other stores such as flour, barrels, vats and winery and farming equipment. A devastating blow but he still had his family, home, vineyard and cattle as well as his 10 year old medical practice to tide him over.
He may have spent some time providing medical services in the gold fields near Mudgee. Dr Phil Norrie in his book “Lindeman Australia’s Classic Winemaker” notes that according to his daughter Lillian, he was able to finance the rebuilding of the cellars and “began all over again”. Norrie queries the story of Lindeman going to the Victorian goldfields but Max Lake in ‘Vine and Scalpel” says he developed his interest in Victorian Vineyards at that time. Clearly, his interest in wine never waned, he had the 1852 harvest to deal with and attending the next two HRVA meetings which occurred every six months, it seems he was away from Cawarra very little.
He was clearly a robust personality, having not been deterred by the loss of his cellar, although much was made of the event. He sold some 200 head of cattle in February 1853 which may also have helped to recover. He used the local stone to rebuild the winery and cellars and subsequently built the family homestead using the same local stone.
An article in the Maitland Mercury of 1865 outlines the achievements of the Cawarra vineyard, noting, in particular, the success of Verdeilho and Shepherds Riesling (Semillon), the former giving superior flavour and the latter regular and abundant crops. The Verdeilho, it mentions, was introduced to the colony in 1825 by the Australian Agricultural company. The article also comments on the failure of pinot noir, that on the river flats was prone to decay after rain and also Muscat that was subject to blight.
Henry Lindeman must have had exceptional leadership skills and business acumen, he guided the HRVA from ’63 till ’70 and George Wyndham often stated that he owed much of his success to Dr Lindeman. Meanwhile, the Lindeman business was growing such that the Sydney Morning Herald reported Lindeman had produced about 5000 gallons from his own vineyard and about 30,000 gallons from grapes purchased from other growers in the neighbourhood.
In northern Victoria, Lindeman had been impressed by the wines of the Corowa and Rutherglen districts. He continued his connection with the area and by 1872 had a large wine trade at Corowa; later he bought the Haffner Corowa vineyard. So the pattern was established of buying in wine and grapes to expand production– a practice that continues to this day. The blending of “light” Hunter reds with the heavier Corowa reds established a pattern later followed by exchanges with MacLaren Vale and elsewhere by Hunter winemakers.
In 1870 the business had expanded beyond the capacity of the Hunter cellars so he transferred his activities to Sydney. He set up bottling equipment at the Exchange Cellars in Pitt Street. In the 1870s he won high repute in Sydney for his colonial wines, with increasing production of fine table wines in the Hunter district and of Sherries, Tokay, ports and muscats at Corowa.
Like James Busby, Henry Lindeman sought to substitute wine for the ruinous hard liquors of the day. He argued “it would be a retrograde step to throw any obstruction in the way of the consumption of our native wines. He expressed great disappointment in the Parliament when a bill unfavourable to wine was passed. He saw the majority of the Parliament as “Abject slaves “of the rum bottle!
Lindeman’s winery was no small operation and Henry had taken his three sons into the business. His family carried on the tradition of building the business after his death in 1881, acquiring Hunter vineyards including the Coolalta name from the Wilkinsons and Catawba vineyard from the Capper family in 1903, the Sunshine vineyard from John McDonald in two parts in1909-12, and Kirkton the Busby/Kelman vineyard in 1914.
Lindeman’s became the dominant Hunter wine producer and, as we all know, was the subject of further expansion and takeovers becoming a major international name, even buying wines from South Africa for its North American market, but that’s another story!
So where did this energetic and passionate winemaker come from? Henry John Lindeman (1811-1881), was born on 21 September 1811 at Egham, Surrey, England, son of John William Henry Lindeman, medical practitioner. Trained at St Bartholomew’s Hospital (M.R.C.S., 1834), and became a General Practitioner in the England of the 1830’s.
It was a time of hardship in the UK, but also a time of opportunity through its colonial expansion. Having married Eliza Bramhall they came to Sydney in September 1840. This was a period that many seemed to have decided to come to Australia including another major wine pioneer, Dr C R Penfold and even my own family who like Lindeman built a log hut to start with.
A Pioneering spirit, resilience, determination, clear goals, a work ethic, a belief in the possibilities of the new colony and above all dedication to his family are marks of this extraordinary man.
There are many of us in the Hunter who welcome the restoration of the Ben Ean Vineyard and cellar door as both a mark of respect to this great Pioneer and as a reminder of the long history of the Hunter Valley in producing quality table wines.
Long may the tradition continue!
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Author: Prof. Robert Lusby (AM)
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