The Red Wines of Parramatta

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Today we associate quality Australian wines with many places including the Hunter, Yarra, Barossa and Clare valleys.

Brush Farm House
Brush Farm House

Back in the late 18th century the Parramatta region was the one and only centre. By 1791, Governor Arthur Phillip had established three acres of vines at Government House on the Parramatta River. The Duke of Portland recommended to Governor King in April 1800 that the climate and soil of the area favoured cultivation of grapes and sent two French prisoners of war to establish a vineyard. The men arrived in 1801 and by the end of the year had planted 7000 cuttings on the side of The Crescent in Parramatta Park near Government House. Other vines were planted near present day Rydalmere train station beside a stream still called Vineyard Creek. Brush Farm, located in the suburb of Eastwood next to Marsden Road, also had a vineyard.

The authorities encouraged the planting of vineyards since wines were considered a healthier beverage than the imported rum that arrived as cargo in nearly every ship.

The first medal for quality red wines produced in Australia was presented to Gregory Blaxland’s The Brush vintage in 1822, created from vines growing at Brush Farm. To ensure the wine would endure the long sea voyage to England, French brandy was added.

The wine was described as “light sound wine with a nose and flavour resembling claret.” In London, the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, later named the Royal Society of Arts, awarded a silver medal to this pioneering export.

In 1828 the same Society awarded Blaxland the gold Ceres medal for a tawny red wine described, in comparison with the wines of the Cape of Good Hope, as “wholly free of the earthy quality which unhappily characterises most of the Cape wines.” Incidentally, George Wyndham started his vineyard in the Hunter Valley the same year.

Trevor Patrick is a local historian of the north-west of Sydney, Australia. His latest book, In Search of the Pennant Hills, recounts some of these stories (and others) in more detail.