In 1865, brothers Joseph and Henry Best established vineyards at Great Western in the Grampians region of Victoria. The Bests hired unemployed miners to create tunnels, or ‘drives’, where wine could be stored under their new winery. Joseph’s vineyards and cellar were bought by a Ballarat businessman, Hans Irvine, in 1888. Henry’s property still operates as Best’s Great Western, owned by the Thompson family.
The Best brothers were not the first to plant vines at Great Western. In 1858 Jean-Pierre Trouette, his wife Anne and his brother-in-law Emile Blampied took over a vegetable garden in the area, planting vines in 1863. The French immigrants went on to make table wines at their St Peter’s winery, exhibiting several varieties including ‘White Nice’, chasselas, riesling and esparte (mourvedre) at the 1866 Intercolonial Exhibition in Melbourne. Trouette died in 1885 and the following year his son was overcome by fumes while cleaning a wine vat. These and other misfortunes led to the sale of St Peters in 1894 and wine making there was abandoned.
Joseph and Henry Best had set up a butchery business at Great Western, supplying meat to the local goldfields. In 1865, Joseph obtained cuttings from St Peter’s and planted the vineyard that was to become known as Great Western. The following year his brother, Henry, also began cultivating wines on his 70-acre property, Concongella, nearby.
Best’s Great Western wines enjoyed considerable success and much was exported to Britain and Europe, winning medals at the London International Exhibition in 1873. Joseph died in 1887. He was unmarried and had no heirs, so the vineyard was sold to Hans Irvine who expanded the property and began to produce sparkling wines, a tradition that was continued under the Seppelts ownership after 1918. Irvine evidently valued the success of Best’s wines, as the medals were still featured on the label of his “Melbonia” White Hermitage more than 20 years later.
After Henry Best died in 1913, his property was acquired by the Thompson family, already vignerons in their own right. Their descendants still make and market Best’s Great Western wines.