‘Best’s Great Western Vineyard’ started with the official registration of land to Mr Henry Best in 1866. Henry named his land ‘Concongella’ and planted the first vines in 1868. This year, Best’s is 150 years old, having been owned by just two families – the Best’s for 54 years and the Thomson’s for 96 years. Their story is a fascinating piece of Australian winemaking history.
The Best family plants their first vines
David Best and his family arrived in Hobart in 1833 and moved to Port Phillip six years later, taking up an acre of land in Little Collins Street and 14 acres in what is now the city of Hawthorn. David established a very successful cabinet making business and had a large family. Betsy, his wife, gave birth to her eighth child at the age of 54!
Mary, their eldest daughter, married a Western district settler and her brothers, Joseph and Henry, sourced cattle from them for their butchery business in Great Western (a town 225k north west of Melbourne) during the heady gold rush days.
With the demise of the gold rush, the brothers planted vines – Joseph planting his vines in 1867 on the land which is now a Seppelt vineyard, and Henry the following year at the ‘Concongella’ vineyard, Great Western.
The Thomson family become winemakers
Meanwhile, William Thomson had arrived in Australia in 1853, residing in Ballarat where he first worked as a mail carrier, then a baker and a temperance caterer. He moved to Melbourne and set up business as a temperance caterer at Emerald Hill (now South Melbourne). With the growth of the temperance movement in Australia, William’s business was very successful and he was appointed a caterer for the Centennial International Exhibition of 1888 in Melbourne.
As a temperance caterer serves little or no alcohol to his clientele, it seems surprising that William would enter the wine industry. However, his interest in wine was piqued at the 1888 Centennial International Exhibition where there was a wine competition. Five years later, William purchased ‘St Andrew’s’, a working vineyard and winery at Rhymney (near Great Western). He later sold the enterprise to his son Frederick, who had worked with him at the winery since the purchase.
The Thomson family buy ‘Concongella’
In 1920, Frederick Thomson purchased Best’s ‘Concongella’ vineyard for the grand sum of $10,000.00 from Henry Bests ’ son Charles.
With two vineyards and wineries, ‘Concongella’ and ‘St. Andrew’s’, under his belt, Frederick was fairly positive about the future. However, his prosperity was to be short-lived.
‘Misery’ in the Great Depression
The Great Depression saw Frederick’s vineyards, and the entire wine industry in Australia, fall into difficult times which had repercussions for the next forty years. Frederick was forced to sell the Rhymney St Andrew’s vineyard in 1927 and lost the ‘Concongella’ vineyard when the bank took it over three years later. Frederick and his son Eric went to Lake Boga near Swan Hill and took up land, aptly named ‘Misery Farm’, soon selling it to purchase a far better property.
Meanwhile at Great Western, the bank had obviously decided that running a vineyard and winery was not an economic proposition and after only six months, the Great Western property was returned to the Thomson’s.
Changing attitudes, changing fortunes
From the 1960s, the wine industry in Australia started to turn around. There have been massive changes in the industry since then, the biggest being the acceptance of wine as a life style. Wine has become part of Australian culture, with Australians just as likely to do a wine appreciation course or head off to a regional winery as they are to go to the beach. Australia’s wine industry has grown from a few small plantings to winemaking renowned throughout the world for quality, innovation and depth. ‘Best’s Great Western’ is a great example.
Best’s winery today – a slice of history
Best’s has always been a small, quality based winery with a relatively low production of very high quality wines.
The heart and soul of Best’s Wines remains the Concongella Cellar Door, otherwise known as ‘The Stables’. A truly memorable place to visit, visitors can enjoy the beautiful, old, red gum slab tasting room built by Henry Best in 1860s, the hand-dug 1860s cellars, and the original Nursery Block 1868 plantings, all of which are a significant slice of Australian winemaking history.
As one of Australia’s oldest and continuously family owned and operated wineries, Best’s craft extraordinary and iconic wines of elegance and longevity. Their flagship wine, The Thomson Family Shiraz, has an ‘Outstanding’ designation from the revered Langton’s Auction House and Bin O Shiraz is rated as ‘Distinguished’.
Adapting for current challenges
Best’s is currently managed by fifth generation Ben Thomson who is facing industry problems associated with climate change, the dominance of large supermarkets in the domestic market and the relatively high Australian dollar in the export market.
To deal with these challenges, Ben is enhancing the winery’s viticultural practices, repositioning Best’s wines by concentrating on the top-end of the market, generating more direct sales, and maintaining niche markets in the export market place.
With the advantage of experience, Best’s reputation for quality wines and the built-in flexibility of a small company, Best’s feel very positive about the winery’s next 150 years.
Accru Melbourne’s continued support
The team at Accru Melbourne are proud to have played a small but significant part in this Australian family success story, having been involved with Best’s Wines and the Thomson family for over 70 years.
We wish Best’s Wines all the best on their 150 year anniversary, and look forward to helping them remain strong into the future.