First made by Leo Buring at the Minchinbury Estate just a few minutes’ walk from Sydney’s Rooty Hill Station, Minchinbury Champagne was, for many years, one of Australia’s favourite sparkling wines. The first bottles were produced in 1908, from the 1903 vintage.
In my youth (more years ago than I care to calculate) there were two brands of “champagne” that featured on celebratory occasions: Great Western and Minchinbury. At that time Minchinbury was produced by Penfolds at its winery in western Sydney. The Minchinbury estate is now a residential development, while the remains of the winery buildings attract the occasional tourist.
The estate was named after William Minchin, who was granted land there in 1819, but serious viticulture didn’t begin until Dr James McKay bought the site in 1859. He built cellars and planted vines using convict labour. His wines won awards at the Metropolitan Intercolonial Exhibition in 1871, although the wine judges noted regretfully that Victorian and South Australian wine growers did not exhibit. By 1877 he was advertising a range of table wines of the varieties Pineau, Reisling, Shiraz, Lambrascat, Burgundy and Hermitage as well as Madeira and Colonial Port.
Minchinbury took another leap forward when a local councillor, James Angus, bought the estate in 1895. He added the bubbles. Angus’s vineyards were devastated by the Phylloxera pest in 1898 but, after burning the vineyard, he replanted on resistant American rootstock. He then employed the noted winemaker Leo Buring, who worked at Minchinbury from 1902 to 1918. In 1908, with machinery imported from France, they began to produce Minchinbury Champagne, using the traditional bottle fermentation method.
Penfolds purchased Minchinbury in 1912 and produced a range of wines there. The vineyards were planted with Verdelho, Riesling, Cabernet Riesling, Pinot Noir, Hermitage, Traminer, and Pinot Blanc. The star of the show was undoubtedly the champagne, so highly regarded that it was served to Queen Elizabeth during her first Australian visit in 1954. However, erosion and soil exhaustion took their toll on the vineyard. From 1962 the winery operated using grapes from elsewhere and in 1978 it was closed.
Penfolds itself went through many changes of ownership, beginning with its sale to the brewers, Tooth’s, in 1976. However, the company continued to offer a range of sparkling wines, including the flagship Minchinbury Champagne until 1993, when it sold the brand and ceased to make sparkling wine. The Minchinbury brand is now owned by Pinnacle Drinks, which is the liquor arm of Woolworths. No longer known as champagne, since an agreement with the European Union in 2008, Minchinbury sparkling wines are now only available through Woolworths-owned liquor stores BWS, Dan Murphy’s and Woolworths Liquor.