Aussie Wine Doctors
Australian medicos have played an important role in the evolution of the country’s wine industry.
Australia is unique amongst wine producing countries in that 60% of the fruit from any vintage is
processed by wine companies established by Australia’s over 180 wine doctors. Australia’s three
largest wine companies, Lindemans, Penfolds and Hardys, for example, were all founded by doctors
as were other famous Australian labels such as Angoves, Stanley and Houghton.
Wine was used as a medicine during the 1700s on the voyages to Australia from Northern Europe to
prevent malnutrition and disease. The turning point in the medical treatment of convicts during transportation
came in 1814, with the voyage of the Surrey. The Surrey had on board 200 male convicts,
marine guards and crew. The convict’s cells below deck were poorly ventilated and not properly
cleaned or fumigated. Governor Macquarie ordered an inquiry into the high death toll during the voyage
of the Surrey. He appointed Dr. William Redfern, Sydney’s leading doctor, to investigate. Redfern
later established a vineyard at Campbellfields, in the southwest area of Sydney in 1818, becoming
Australia’s first wine doctor. Redfern was also an ex-convict. His investigations and recommendations
were to have a significant impact on the Australian wine industry. He found that the captain had withheld
rations from the convicts, including their wine rations. As a result, the convicts became weak and
susceptible to disease. Redfern’s recommendations included a quarter pint of wine, with added lime
juice, to be given to each convict every day to prevent malnutrition and scurvy. He also recommended
that each transport ship have a qualified doctor on board. As a result, Australia found itself
host to many naval surgeons doing convict transport. These doctors knew the health benefits of wine.
Only the poorer quality wines were ever shipped to Australia. The better European wines were kept
back by English wine merchants. After spending six months in a leaking oak cask in the bilge of a
transport ship, the wine was frequently oxidized and contaminated with sea water. This led many
doctors that had retired to Australia to establish vineyards of their own to avoid the problems associated
with transporting wine to Australia and to provide wine as a medicine for their patients.
The Australian medical profession’s symbol should not be the traditional snake caduceus, but a glass
of wine and a convict’s leg iron, for Australia’s medical profession began with convict transport
doctors attempting to maintain their convict patients’ health with wine.
A number of prominent Australian doctors have carried on the tradition in
the modern era. Dr. Max Lake, a hand surgeon based in Sydney, established
Australia’s first boutique winery in 1963 in the Hunter Valley of
New South Wales. He subsequently published several wine titles including
Classic Wines of Australia (1966) and Wine & Scalpel (1967). Dr. Tom
Cullity founded Vasse Felix in 1967, the first commercial vineyard at
Margaret River. Dr. Phillip Norrie, aka “The Wine Doctor” (photo right),
is a general practitioner, vineyard owner (Pendares Estate in the lower
Hunter Valley), author of eight books on wine and health, and a wine and
health historian (www.winedoctor.info
). He is known for numerous
memorable quotations about wine and health including, “Wine is the
thinking persons health drink.” In 2006, he produced the first R.E.W.
(resveratrol enhanced wine), using a process he developed to increase
the antioxidants in white wine by 600% and red wine by 40%.