A reviving blast from the past unveils Minchinbury Winery’s forgotten history.
IT was once dusty and decrepit. But it was never forgotten. With age the appeal of the Minchinbury Winery Gardens, which once housed the famous Penfolds Wines, has only grown.
Its newest chapter is the Distillery Woodfire Restaurant, located on the site of the old distillery, destroyed by a fire in 1987. The restaurant opened last week and has turned the heritage-listed site into a place where people can eat their hearts out to history. Owen and Reema Aoun, and their business partner Eddie Dib, have reused original parts of the building to completely restore an old distillery.
Mrs Aoun said the aim was to preserve a forgotten past of Minchinbury’s history and the site’s significant contribution to an early Australia.
“It’s all about giving back to the community, to save our history, our heritage,” she said.
The restaurant is part of a larger revival of the site which includes a commercial-residential mix. A total of 54 housing lots, which includes townhouses and units, have been created. The former Minchinbury Winery once housed 1.25 million bottles of wine in deep earth cellars, which formed a network of underground tunnels.
Operated under the hand of James Angus from 1895 to 1908, the estate hosted the inauguration of the NSW champagne industry.
James’ great-grandson, Lorance Angus, said James bought grape vines from the US to plant the latest variety of grapes and produced NSW’s first champagne. The wines won a variety of gold medals at the London Brewery and Allied Trades Exhibition in 1908.
“This was a pretty mean feat and for years Minchinbury Champagne and Sparkling Burgundy were very well known,” Mr Angus said.
Penfolds bought the winery from the Angus family in 1912 for £50,000 (which at the time was an enormous amount of money). Mr Angus said it was interesting that when Penfolds bought the winery, the company also got its winemaker, Leo Buring.
“He was the one that put Penfolds on the map,” he said.
The site was shut in 1978. But new life has now been breathed back into it after falling from grace and laying abandoned for decades. Spokeswoman for Mt Druitt Historical Society Hazel Magann said the restoration had brought back to people a sense of how important the winery was for Minchinbury.
“You walk into certain sections of the site and you’ve just walked back into the restoration of old buildings that have been tidied up and look like the old buildings from the outside until you go inside,” she said.
Lorance Angus, who once worked at the winery, recalled washing bottles and going into the first deep earth cellar.
“They ran a refrigeration system where they crushed the grapes, put them into tanks and bottles with a cork, then put them into racks where the bottles sat neck down in a 45-degree angle,” he said.
“When it came time to rebottle for sale, they froze the neck of the bottle and pulled the cork out which had the ice with all the sediment in it to (save) them a lot of filtration.
“The tunnels were full of wooden boards and a round roof with a train track and trolley to take the bottles around.
“They had funny wine racks with big boards (two X 1.5m) and they had holes in them that they stuck bottles in and every now and again you’d hear a huge bang from the pressure.
“In the ’60s, there was an old wheelbarrow they called the Jimmy Angus.
“The Angus family crest, which was a lion, hung on the wall on the outside of the tasting room,” he said.
Mrs Magann said there were many rare historical elements, which had been preserved on the site, including an old chimney stack, propagated vines and a large beehive well. These can be seen on a kilometre-long heritage walk around the site.
“This beehive well is the biggest I’ve ever seen … and it’s at the front of the property,” Mrs Magann said.
“These wells have a square opening at the top and what they’d do is put bottles into the well and cover the opening to keep things cold because the water in the well was cold. These were very much in demand in the past … it’s rare to see them intact today.”
She said the society had been surprised Mr Aoun had salvaged what he did because “it was very bad and we didn’t think we’d have anything left”.
“I once chased squatters away from the site by yelling at them,” she said.
“It was fenced but not to the degree that it was protected,” she said.
Captain: Business partners Reema Aoun and Eddie Dib with staff outside the new pizza restaurant in Minchinbury
Written by Philip Ly Mt / Photo Phil Rogers / 27.10.14
Originally published (DAILY TELEGRAPH) DRUITT-ST MARYS STANDARD