1900 Great Western triumphs in Paris

Hans Irvine of Great Western - National Library of Australia

Hans William Henry Irvine extended the underground cellars at Great Western, imported a French winemaker from the champagne house of Pommery and made wine by the traditional champagne method. All bottles and machinery were imported from France.  His Great Western sparkling wine, the first successful champagne-style wine in Australia, won the gold medal at the 1900 Paris exhibition.

Hans William Henry Irvine (1856-1922 was born in Melbourne in 1856 and originally entered the printing trade. A man of entrepreneurial spirit, he invested in land, mining and vineyards, buying Best’s Great Western, with its established vineyard, cellars and winery, in 1888.

Irvine acquired further vineyards in the region and set out to produce quality wines. He was aided in this by Charles Pierlot, a former employee of the French champagne house Pommery & Greno. In 1890 he laid down 2000 bottles of sparkling wine and the following year made the first of many journeys to Europe. He knew the benefits of promotion, advertising his wines widely, entering them in exhibitions and exploring the possibilities of export.

In addition to his Great Western champagne (in which Nellie Melba reputedly bathed in 1909), Irvine produced brandy, claret, hock, chablis, burgundy, hermitage, sparkling hock and sparkling burgundy. He continued to excavate the ‘drives’ that had been created by the Best brothers and by 1907 they extended for more than a mile (1.6km).

In 1905, Irvine became the first President of the  Viticultural Society of Victoria and was active in industry concerns at a time when the phylloxera was devastating vineyards in other parts of Victoria. He was also a parliamentarian, first in Victoria’s Legislative Council and subsequently in the Legislative Assembly.

Irvine sold Great Western in 1918 to Benno Seppelt, the son of Joseph Seppelt who had established Seppeltsfield in South Australia’s Barossa Valley. Great Western Champagne (as it was then called) became Australia’s best-known sparkling wine, enjoying immense popularity from the 1940s to the 1960s.  The company is still well-known for its sparklings, including its sparkling Shiraz.

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