Historic Hunter Valley Drayton’s Vineyard Comes to the End of an Era | Maitland’s Mercury

news, Draytons, Hunter Valley wine, John Lewis

A REMARKABLE saga of backbreaking work, initiative and resilience in the face of hardship and tragedy is now revealed as the Drayton family’s nearly 170-year history in Hunter winemaking comes to an end. In July last year Drayton’s, unique with Tyrrell’s to remain in the hands of its founding family, shocked the Hunter wine community by announcing it was closing shop. The Hunter wine dynasty began after Lincolnshire farmhand Joseph Drayton, the fourth son in a family of 11 children, decided to leave England and emigrate to Australia with his wife Hannah and three children. They set sail in 1852 aboard a double-deck ship, the Beejapore, which was chartered by the British government to cut costs by taking more migrants on one ship. The experiment had disastrous results as the windjammer lacked adequate ventilation and in the cramped conditions measles, typhus and scarlet fever spread unchecked, eventually killing 55 people on the 85-day trip to Australia and 62 others. at the Sydney Quarantine Station. One of the deaths at sea was two-year-old Charles Drayton and, while in quarantine, Hannah gave birth to another baby girl, but she and her eldest daughter Emily later joined the death toll of Beejapore. It was by no means the last time Draytons had to deal with profound tragedy: in 1977 gifted winemaker Barrie Drayton was choked with fumes while clearing out a reservoir at his Hillside vineyard in Marrowbone Rd. Other dark chapters came in 1994 when Reg Drayton and his wife Pam died along with seven others when a Seaview plane crashed en route to Lord Howe Island and in 2008 brilliant wine technician Trevor Drayton and a contractor died in an explosion at the Bellevue winery. Like the descendants of the 20th century, Joseph Drayton in 1853 faced tragedy with courage and, after being released from quarantine in Sydney, he left with his newborn daughter and four-year-old son Frederick for Lochinvar to work as a farm worker. After some time he took 16 acres of land at Oakey Creek Rd, Pokolbin, built a flagstone cabin, planted wine vines and grew wheat, fruits and vegetables and called the property Bellevue. In 1855 Joseph remarried and he and his second wife, Mary Ann Chick, had eight children, of whom second eldest son William and his wife Susanne inherited the business on Joseph and Mary Ann’s death. William and Susanne had nine sons and one daughter and the family expanded their Pokolbin landholdings and earned their living through farming, dairy farming and viticulture. To turn his grapes into wine, William built the Bellevue winery and also supplemented the family income by working the roads for the magnificent sum of four shillings and sixpence a day. Over the years a progression of Draytons worked in the family business and held on through difficult times, particularly in the 1920s and 1930s when the wine trade faltered and the family relied on dairy farming and market gardening to pay the bills. The Great Depression brought particularly bitter experiences: in 1929, the Draytons entered into a contract to sell a large shipment of wine to a merchant in Sydney for what was then an excellent price of five shillings a gallon. The merchant, however, reneged on delivery and payment as the depression brought down the bottom of the market. The Draytons were stuck with wine, which ultimately had to be sold at nine pence a gallon or distilled into spirits. When William Drayton retired in 1938, four of his sons, Harry, Walter, George and Len, entered the Bellevue-based family business, which in 1947 was formed into W. Drayton and Sons Pty Ltd. Over the next 42 years the shareholding evolved into four 25% parcels held by Draytons – Max (son of Walter), Reg (son of George), Ron and Jock (son of Harry) and Bill (son of Len ). In 1989 the company was purchased by fourth generation Max Drayton and three of his four sons, John, Trevor and Greg, and restructured as Drayton’s Family Wines. Now, with the loss of Trevor in 2008 and Max’s death in 2017 at the age of 86, John and Greg remain as the operation winds down. This leaves Drayton’s winemaking legacy to be continued by Stephen Drayton, son of Reg and Pam, at his Marrowbone Rd, Pokolbin, Ivanhoe Vineyard and civil engineer-winemaker Peter Drayton, the youngest of Max and Caroline Drayton’s four sons , at his namesake winery in Hermitage Rd, Pokolbin.


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