Although vines arrived with the First Fleet, Gregory Blaxland (one of the conquerors of the Blue Mountains) made the first wine exports from Australia. The red wine he sent to London in 1822 was awarded a silver medal by the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers and Commerce, later the Royal Society of Arts.
Blaxland was among the earliest of the free settlers to arrive in New South Wales, most likely drawn by the possibilities for commercial success. He became something of a thorn in the side of various governors, always seeking more land grants that could be worked by the convict labour force. Most famous as one of the leaders of the party that first crossed the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, he was also one of the colony’s first wine makers.
Previous attempts to make wine in the area had failed. Even the 12 000 vines planted at Parramatta by two French men, who claimed to have experience in the business, were troubled by blight. In the four years to 1804 they produced only about 40 gallons of wine, described as “of a very indifferent quality”.
Blaxland arrived in New South Wales in 1806 and bought Brush Farm at Ermington on the Parramatta River. He had brought vines from the Cape of Good Hope and the species he planted seemed to be resistant to blight. By 1816 he was making commercial quantities of wine, taking a sample to London in 1822 where it was awarded a silver medal, the first of Australia’s wine exports.
The wine Blaxland exported had 10 per cent of French brandy added to allow it to endure the voyage to England. In 1828 another of Blaxland’s wines received a gold medal from the same Society. Fortifying even table wines with brandy was not unusual at the time. Blaxland even petitioned the Colonial Office to obtain a refund of import duties paid on brandy if it was used in the manufacture of wine.
Blaxland committed suicide in 1853 after personal tragedies and financial difficulties caused him to retire from public life.