Each month throughout 2016, Stephen Mudd will speak to people who have called Griffith their home and tell their stories.
Griffith’s pioneering wine family has had an influence across the entire district for more than a century, arriving before the future city was even named.
John James (JJ) McWilliam, the son of an Irish farmer, had worked in his father’s vineyard and established one of his own before he heard about a brand-new, purpose-built irrigation area. In 1913, JJ took his son, Jack, secured farms 130 and 133, 100 acres in total, at Hanwood, where they planted some of the first grapes in the area. They carted water to the thirsty plants before the irrigation channels finally arrived in the following year.
In 1916, the year Griffith was named, Jack sold wine at Hanwood for 12 shillings and sixpence, or about $1.25, per gallon.
Before too long the McWilliams established wineries at Hanwood, Beelbangera and Yenda because of the limitations of horse-and-cart transport. As modern trucks became available, they sold the Yenda winery to the Casella family and used the Beelbangera winery as a cellar and storage facility.
Doug McWilliam, JJ’s great-grandson and family historian, said the local winemakers all got on well in the early days.
“Deen DeBortoli’s father actually worked at our winery when he arrived in the area,” Doug McWilliam said. “Lots of winemakers in the area have an association with McWilliams.”
In the 1940’s the McWilliam family bought an estate in the Hunter Valley and in the 1980’s, the family expanded into other wine regions.
Six generations of McWilliams have now worked in the family business at Hanwood, from managing vineyards and making wine, right through to doing odd jobs for pocket money as children.
“We didn’t know much else, family life and work life were one and the same,” Doug McWilliam said. “We just grew up in the industry.”
103 years after JJ and Jack first came to the area, the McWilliam family has left their mark on Griffith, from the influence in the wine industry to the philanthropy of the late Stuart McWilliam.
Kind thanks to Doug and Greg McWilliam for their help with this story.