“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





04 February 2014


Max Liberman, the determined creative businessman and property developer who bought the ailing Wendouree in 1974 to save it and keep it operating, has died after a long and full life.  Upon the purchase, he installed his daughter, Lita, and son-in-law, Tony Brady, as managers. They will continue as normal, making what I consider to be amongst the most beautiful and distinctive wines this country has to offer.  They are certainly the most Australian.  The Clare winery is one of our most revered and precious temples of gastronomic triumph. Raise a toast.   

I am indebted to Tim White for his transcript of the late Mick Knappstein's toast at the 100th vintage celebrations of Wendouree on 10th October, 1995. What a bonnie brave day that was! I had a long talk to Max, who complained about how difficult it was to convince Tony and Lita to charge more for the wine, then I followed Peter Lehmann and Bill Chambers through that amazing tasting of 100 different Wendouree treasures. But here's the great Mick:

"It is an honour for me to propose this toast today because my family and the Stanley Wine Company have been associated with Wendouree for many, many years. We almost started together and I suppose I am probably the person that knew Mr. Birks senior, that’s Percy Birks, longer than anybody else.

"I remember him when I was about five or six years old. We were Presbyterians and they were Anglicans and I used to go to Presbyterian Sunday school and we’d be driven up and we’d walk home, but very often Mr. and Mrs. Birks would pick us up in their buggy and we’d get a ride home.

"Well I was only about seven at that time and I lost contact with them in my growing up years, but it was in the nineteen thirties that I then I became associated with the younger members of the family. I say young, but they were all older than I was. Two of them were returned soldiers from the first war, so we didn’t play alleys together or anything like that...

"But I remember in the depression that times were hard for all the wine companies and Roly, who was winemaker, used to go the northern towns to sell his wine, which he did successfully, because the place still carried on and flourished. And as time went on Roly became the prime mover.

"Roly was a very honest winemaker, in as much as you knew what he did. You’d see on the head of his vats – he didn’t have a weighbridge – it was all in buckets. You’d see so many buckets of Mataro, many buckets of Shiraz, or even Malbec. He blended his wines at the crusher.

"It always had at the head of the vats what the additions were. If the grapes were very ripe it would say how much water went in. Now you know, not many winemakers would do that... He was honest!

"Not only was he honest, but he was also a trusting man, and he was so trusting that on two occasions I remember that his trust cost him very dearly. Especially when he sold the place here – not to the present owners – but the first sale. But he carried on and made great wines: they were big wines, but they became known interstate, and he always sold each vintage as they came along.

"As he grew older, and like us all he got a bit tired, he decided he’d sell. That was his first big mistake, because it didn’t turn out successfully. Then it was sold again and eventually Mr. Max Liberman bought the company for his daughter and son-in-law, and they have carried on in the same tradition as the Birks family. And when I say the traditions of the Birks family, the Birks’s were well thought of, they were respected residents of the district.

"The three Birks sons were Cliff, Wilfred and Roly. Now Cliff was the eldest and he was on Cocos Island when the Australia sunk the Emden in the first world war. Now he was the man who tapped the signal out to the rest of the world that the Emden had been sunk. Wilf stayed on as vineyards manager after the war, Cliff then went and bought a property up the road here, and became part of the new establishment up here. He finished up as a very old man in the war service home at Myrtlebank where I saw him on several occasions.

"After Roly's sale, it [Wendouree] went to a finance company because the first purchasers went broke, then they put it up for auction and then it was sold again, and that was the time that Max bought it. And I can say that they are carrying on this company in the same tradition as the Birks's did. They are known for their integrity, quality wines and reliability and I wish them success in the future... 

"And ladies and gentlemen I ask you to charge your glasses and drink the toast. But first of all you are drinking to the past, the present, and the future of Wendouree. And may it last for a long, long time. Ladies and gentlemen, Wendouree."


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