In the beginning there was a river and land. In the area traditionally inhabited by the Taungurung people in Victoria, Australia, “tabilk-tabilk” refers to a place with many water holes. This place in Tahbilk has been called home ever since the establishment of the vineyard in 1860. Thanks to the meso-climate formed by the river valleys, this home in the Nagambie Lakes sub-region of Victoria’s Goulburn Valley is shared with a diverse and thriving local flora and fauna. The Tahbilk estate covers up to 1214 hectares and has belonged to the Purbrick family for five generations since 1925. It is the oldest family-owned winery in Victoria.
The story began when Reginald Purbrick was offered a glass of Chateau Tahbilk (the winery was known as Chateau Tahbilk until 2000) brandy accompanied by the words “This might interest you, Purbrick” in London in the early 1920s. It wasn’t long before Reg decided to buy the vineyard for himself without even seeing it. Later, when Reg’s 28-year-old son Eric inherited the vineyard from his father, he also inherited his father’s sophisticated taste and love of wine, and decided to leave behind his law studies elsewhere to return to the vineyard in 1931. Eric renovated the vineyard for table wine production, learning the hard way not only to make wine, but also to sell and market it to different markets. John, a representative of the next generation, also joined the operation of the vineyard, investing especially in the marketing of the vineyard and its wines. He also decided that his son Alister would become the vineyard’s first officially trained winemaker, and thus the 24-year-old Alister returned to the farm in 1978. Together with his daughter Hayley, Alister is today responsible for the production of the vineyard’s wines, guaranteeing the continuation of the story for the next generations.
Especially during fifth generation Hayley Purbrick’s era, Tahbilk has acted as a leading figure in sustainable wine production in Australia. Already ten years ago in 2013, the vineyard received the carboNZero carbon neutrality certificate issued by Toitu Envirocare. The same certificate covering the entire production and management has been granted to only 8 wineries worldwide. Tahbilk cultivates a total of up to 200 hectares of vineyards. The estate is known for the world’s largest and oldest single Marsanne vineyard, the vines of which were planted in 1927. It also has very old and ungrafted Shiraz vines dating back to 1860, which still produce wine. Thanks to the long and cool growing season, the lifespan of vines in the Nagambie Lakes area is also long, and 80 hectares of Tahbilk’s vineyard area has remarkably old vines.
In the vineyards, Tahbilk follows organic methods and soil temperature and moisture levels are taken care of by placing straw under the rows of vines. The conversion to organic production began in 2017, and so far 50 hectares of the vineyards produce grapes grown with certified organic methods. During 2023, 40 additional hectares will be covered by the certificate. Tahbilk is also a member of Sustainable Winegrowing Australia.
Focusing on the well-being of the vineyards and the surrounding terroir has led the vineyard to make its wine, in its own words, “according to the old world ways”. This means, among other things, the fermentation process and maturation of the wines in oak barrels instead of steel tanks. The vineyard’s winemaking still follows the teachings of the French winemaker Francois Coueslant, who worked at the vineyard from 1877 to 1886 and established a high reputation for the estate. The operating methods have also brought results, as the vineyard’s numerous awards include, among others, the Diploma of Honour, the highest possible award from the 1899 Greater London Exhibition. Tahbilk has been awarded 5 red stars by the Australian James Halliday for many years. All of this is possible due to the vineyard’s unique environment.