Some Account of the Vineyards at Camden
The vineyards of Camden Park are widely considered to be the first commercial vineyards in Australia. James and William Macarthur were certainly not the first to sell wine for profit or the first to export wine but were pioneers in the development of vineyards intended to produce a profit from the sale of quality wine. Prior to this wine was produced from small vineyards planted primarily for home consumption, with excess sold and sometimes exported.
The first vineyard was small, only one acre in extent, and largely experimental, but the second and third were on a much grander scale. As the closing words of this pamphlet demonstrate, James and William certainly had a vision of what was possible for Australian wine production, as they had previously for fine Merino wool.
‘Whether these Colonies can also hope to provide for the benefit of every class here at home, and at an equally moderate rate another exportable product, remains yet to be seen — so that even the tired artizan, in his hours of relaxation from toil, may not unseldom exclaim, “Go Fetch me a quart of (Australian) Sack.” ’
This short pamphlet outlining the Camden vineyards was produced to accompany samples of wine to the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1851.
The illustration used here is a water-colour painting by Emily Macarthur, wife of James. The artist is looking towards the vineyard across the neighbouring lagoon with the vineyard to the right of the creek flowing into the lagoon. The vineyard is divided into sections by hedges of trees and shrubs, exactly as indicated on an early, undated plan. The nature of the building on the left is unknown.
The cover is dated 1849, the printers John Nichols, Milton Press, Chandos Street, Strand, London. However, the final page is dated London, June, 1851.
Some Account of the Vineyards at Camden, On the Nepean River, Forty Miles South West of Sydney, The Property of James and William Macarthur
Having early acquired in France and Switzerland a general knowledge of the Cultivation of the Vine, the proprietors planted their first Vineyard at Camden, in 1820.
But after many experiments in a then so novel branch of agriculture, local experience was at length obtained the old Vineyard was abandoned, and the best varieties of Vines having been selected, were transferred to a new site in 1830, after the soil had been deeply trenched for their reception.
This Vineyard comprises about twenty-two acres, and is situated on a natural terrace, originally of alluvial deposit, a formation which is of frequent occurrence on the banks of several of the larger streams in New South Wales.
The soil is a porous, brown, fine grained silicious loam, of great depth, containing much decomposed vegetable matter, peroxide of iron, and probably a considerable quantity of potash.
In sinking a well an opportunity was offered of ascertaining the condition of the soil to the depth of fifty feet. Little change was observable for the first twenty feet, but the presence of vegetable matter became gradually less apparent and the iron more abundant: the soil, however, continued to be quite as porous as at the surface. In descending further the change was more rapid, becoming more ferruginous, with a considerable admixture of alumina, until, at the depth of forty feet, it appeared to be little but sand, clay, and iron, of a bright red colour, and in such combination as to be perfectly permeable to water, and consequently to the roots of the Vines. At the depth of forty to fifty feet, water is obtained freely by infiltration, apparently from the bed of the river Nepean, which flows at about that level, in a deep channel several hundred yards distance. During periods of heavy rain this stream swells so much as to overflow its banks in certain places, and then forms rapid currents between the chain of alluvial terraces, such as the one described and the higher grounds behind, rising to within a few feet of the surface of the former, and forming them into a series of temporary islands, some of them of great extent.
The soil of these terraces possesses in great perfection many of the requisites for Vine cultivation in a hot climate, which is also extremely uncertain with respect to moisture. During the most rainy periods it is never wet, nor after being duly trenched does it during the longest droughts, even close to the surface, ever become thoroughly deprived of moisture
The great depth and porous character of the soil renders it permeable to the surface water, however abundant, and capable of transmitting it back again by capillary attraction to the surface as it becomes parched by the great heats of summer. In less than twenty years roots of the Vines were found to have penetrated fifteen to twenty feet — how much deeper is not known. The growth of the plants is luxuriant, more equal one year taken with another than on the hill soils — their crops abundant and certain, were it not for the liability of damage from hailstones, from frosts late in the spring, and rottenness in the fruit when a series of showery weather happens towards the end of summer; the last two accidents being of more frequent occurrence in low than elevated situations.
About ten years subsequently to the formation of the last mentioned Vineyard, another was commenced in a totally different site and soil: it occupies part of the slope of a hill of moderate elevation, the surface of which has been formed into terraces, to prevent damage from washing during heavy rains. The soil is a calcareous loam, resting at about two to four feet upon shale, passing into soft calcareous clayey sandstone, the soil itself being full of fragments of decomposing rock and of indurated marle or calcareous earth. Although very expensive to form into Vineyards in a suitable manner, this description of land promises to be productive and to yield wine of very good quality. A similar description of land exists in considerable quantities, throughout the older portion of the Colony.
From the Vineyards here described eight specimens of Wine have been transmitted to England under a persuasion that they would be received amongst the Colonial products at the "Great Exhibition." They consist, according to the account which accompanied them, of -
No. l. A hogshead from the first Vineyard, made from a grape imported from France called “La Folle,” mixed to the extent of about one-third with another sort from Madeira, called the “Verdeilho,” the former being very productive and the latter remarkable for its richness in the sacharine principle. Three years old in March, 1851. In the process of manufacture the grapes were crushed by being passed through a machine of simple construction, which reduces them thoroughly without bruising the stalks, and which, with the application afterwards of moderate pressure to the “rape,” separates the juice from it with ease and expedition.
The Wine was fermented in large rats of hewn stone containing from 800 to 1600 gallons, in which it remained until the tumultuous fermentation had subsided. It was then drawn off into large store casks, containing 400 gallons, and suffered to continue the gentle stage of fermentation until quite still. The casks were regularly filled up, at short intervals, as the fermenting liquid subsided. When the process was sufficiently complete it was clari?ed with isinglass. Three years old in March, 1851.
No. 2. A hogshead from the same Vineyard, and made in the same manner as the last, but-entirely from the “Verdeilho” Grape. Three years old in March, 1851.
No. 3. A quarter cask, the produce of the last described Vineyard on the hill, from the “White Muscat of Lunelle.” The grapes were suffered to acquire a very advanced stage of maturity, to the extent of shrivelling on the bunches. To this Wine, during the tumultuous fermentation, was added at different times very pure Brandy of home manufacture, previously filtered through charcoal to render it quite flavourless, in the proportion of two pints of pure alcohol to the hundred pints of Wine.
No. 4. A quarter cask from part of the same Vineyard, (where the soil varies from having a large admixture of a kind of soft ferruginous gravel) made from the “Red and Black Muscat of Frontignac,” in the same manner as the last, and with the addition of the same quantity of spirit. Three years old, April, 1851.
No. 5. A quarter cask from the same Vineyard, produced from the “Riesling Grape,” a variety imported from the Rhine, where it is the sort chiefly cultivated in the best Vineyards, made in the same manner as the preceding. Two years old, March, 1851.
No. 6. A quarter cask from the same Vineyard, made in the same manner as the last, from “La Folle” Grape, mixed with the “Muscat Noir de Frontignac,” in the proportion of four to one. Six years old in March, 1851.
No. 7. A quarter cask of Red Wine, made from a variety called the “Seyras,” cultivated at the hill of the “Hermitage” (Tain). This Wine was fermented in vats open at the top, but covered during the fermentation with a canvas cloth, with the hulls deprived of their stalks, confined in the centre of the fermenting mass by means of a false head fitted to the inside of the Vat. This latter process being adopted to secure sufficient depth of colour to the Wine. It was treated afterwards as the preceding varieties, but without having been fined previously to being drawn off for shipment. Two years old, March, 1851.
No. 8. A case containing, in bottle, samples of a Wine made in April, 1844, from the same Vineyard and the same kind of Grapes as No. 4, but in a still more dessicated state, fermented in the same manner but without the addition of any ardent spirits.
These Wines have a certain dryness and bitterness peculiar to the Wines of New South Wales, to which the palate becomes accustomed: but with age this bitterness passes off, as in the specimens now in England.
The Wines at Camden are rarely fit for use until three years old, and greatly improve by keeping. They are very wholesome, and are extensively used by persons who have acquired a taste for them.
It was on the estate whence these wines have proceeded, that the present proprietors, under the guidance of their father, the late Mr. Macarthur, succeeded in rearing those Merino ?ocks, the germ of which he had in 1805 introduced into Australia, by means of sheep imported in a vessel named by him the “Argo.” They have proved one of the chief sources of the Australian wool trade, now grown into national importance, and in the past year amounting to 36,000,000 lbs., valued at two millions sterling.
But as this Colonial product necessarily depends on the native pastures of the country, the colonists are desirous of creating an export having a more immediate relation to agriculture; and, whatever the difficulties with which they have to contend in competing with the numerous long established Wine growers of` Europe, they yet hope to succeed in like manner as they have already succeeded with the “Golden Fleece.”
They will then have strengthened, by another legitimate tie, the existing well-balanced relations between England and her Australian possessions. For years have they supplied the unmanufactured material, which gives occupation to tens of thousands of Her Majesty’s subjects.
Whether these Colonies can also hope to provide for the benefit of every class here at home, and at an equally moderate rate another exportable product, remains yet to be seen — so that even the tired artizan, in his hours of relaxation from toil, may not unseldom exclaim, “Go Fetch me a quart of (Australian) Sack.”
London, June, 1851.
Printed by John Nichols, Milton Press, 8 & 9, Chandos Street, Strand.