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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%.
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