FRANK POTTS - A PIONEER OF 1836
|IN THE FOLLOWING PAGES is given the story of pioneer Frank Potts (1815-1890), who came to South Australia with the first Governor, Captain John Hindmarsh, on H.M.S. BUFFALO in 1836, and in 1850 founded the Bleasdale Estate at Langhornes Creek, whereon was to come into being the flourishing and progressive industry to be found there today. It is written and published in his honour, and to commemorate the passing of 100 years at Bleasdale by members of the Potts family |
In a young country like ours a Centenary is an event of some rarity. In this case it is regarded not only as an occasion for family pride in the achievements of a worthy forebear, but for warm acknowledgment of the courage, grit and resourcefulness of all the stalwarts of South Australian colonisation. As one possessing all of those qualities, Frank Potts was indeed an outstanding figure. A man of extraordinary natural talents, he worked with his hands as well as with his brain. In giving effect to his practical ideas of self-help, he showed great originality as well as exceptional mechanical skill, and proved himself capable of designing and building practically anything from a bullock dray to a barge, a water-mill to a wine vat, a wooden plough to a huge wine press, a fast sailing yacht to a River Murray paddle-wheel steamer. He could perform wonders at the forge in his workshop, and as a worker in timber, to obtain the material he required for a great variety of purposes, he was one of the first to realise the value of redgum hardwood, which grew so abundantly in the district where he settled. In the several houses which he built for himself, as well as in his numerous and varied undertakings of those early days, practically everything was shaped out of redgum, and a sturdy and most durable timber it proved.
Arrival in Australia
Born in the year of Waterloo, Mr. Potts came to South Australia from the south of England when barely twenty-two from an old-world background, but with mind and outlook broadened by a period of service in the Navy. He joined up at Portsmouth at a very early age. Some say he was only nine when he went to sea as a powder monkey. In those days boys were employed to carry powder to the guns. At any rate, some time before attaining the age of twenty-one he had served for six years on H.M.S. CHALLENGER. There may have been other ships as well.
It was a time when the world enjoyed a spell of comparative tranquility and he saw no war service, but on at least one of his cruises to foreign parts his ship, probably en route to the Mediterranean, made a prolonged stay in Portuguese waters. Whilst anchored off Lisbon young Potts was given shore leave, and in wandering around with shipmates he took an interest in the centuries old vineyards along the River Tagus, saw the methods of watering adopted, and in some of the wineries the type of lever presses which he later was to build in South Australia.
On obtaining his discharge from the Navy, Mr. Potts entered upon the a trade or occupation of a tallow chandler, but in 1836, learning at Plymouth that the BUFFALO was being equipped for a voyage to the new colony of South Australia and would take a certain number of passengers, he decided to venture forth with her. So his name appears in the list of 176 passengers still preserved in the South Australian archives.
The ship left Plymouth on July 23, 1836, reaching Holdfast Bay late in that year, so in all Probability Mr. Potts was at the historic Proclamation ceremony near the old gum tree at Glenelg on December 28. He had had the foresight to bring with him a first-class kit of carpenter's tools, so his services were immediately in request in building some of the first houses in Adelaide. These were mostly small, timber-framed structures thatched with reeds from the River Torrens.
Employee of Captain Thomas Lipson
His next occupation was under Captain Thomas Lipson, R.N. first habour master, pilot and collector of customs at Port Adelaide, and there he did some boat building. He found time to build and rig for himself a trading cutter of 10 to 15 tons burden and named her PETREL. Thinking that Kangaroo Island would be a good place to live and work, he went to American River. The first settlers on the island, he related to one of his sons, used to till the ground with hoes and grow wheat and barley. They ground the grain with flat stones and made bannocks -coarse round cakes baked on an iron plate or griddle. For meat they used to snare or shoot wallabies and mutton birds, and fish were fairly plentiful.
From salt lagoons on the island Mr. Potts would take an occasional cargo of salt in the PETREL to Port Adelaide and fetch back stores. In the mid-forties there were hard times in the new colony, with business stagnant and unemployment rife. So Mr. Potts turned his eyes towards Tasmania (then still known as Van Diemen's Land). Thinking that he might do better there he, with two male companions, set sail in his tiny craft through Backstairs Passage and shaped a course south-east by south that would have taken him probably to the mouth of the Tamar.
This long and hazardous voyage in what can only be regarded as a cockle-shell was not destined to be successful. Adverse winds and heavy seas were encountered, Mr. Potts took ill, and he and his companions decided to turn back. Owing to this circumstance South Australia was saved at least one good settler.
Soon after this misadventure Mr. Potts made the acquaintance on the mainland of the Wenzels, a family of land-seeking migrants from the Harz Mountains region of Hanover in Germany. A sequel to this friendship was the marriage of Frank Potts (32) to Augusta Wenzel (17) at Trinity Church, the marriage ceremony being performed by the Rev. James Farrell, M.A., on February 17, 1848.
Frank Potts settles in Langhorne Creek
Mr. Potts's choice of the Langhornes Creek district in which to settle came about in this way. The Government planned early in 1849 to establish a ferry at Wellington, near to the junction of the Murray with Lake Alexandrina, and the services of a competent waterman were sought. Mr. Potts undertook the commission. In proceeding there he passed over country which a small river or creek, the Bremer, known to the aborigines as Meechi, traverses on its way to Lake Alexandrina. The Bremer had been discovered in 1837, and was named by Governor Hindmarsh after his friend and fellow officer, Sir James John Gordon Bremer, K.C.B., founder of the settlement at Port Essington (Northern Territory). The creek must have been in flood at the time as all the flats adjoining it were under water when Mr. Potts passed that way. He noticed also where wombats had made holes and brought up good black soil from underground. But above all he was impressed by the huge specimens of redgum growing in the vicinity of the watercourse. On the assumption that it must be good
country to produce such trees, he decided that this would be the place to acquire land. Experience in after years went to show that the sections selected by him were periodically enriched by silt deposited as a result of floods brought down by the Bremer. There were also sandy ridges a little distance from the creek covered with sheoaks and other native growth. It was to prove a few years later ideal land for vine growing. A little prior to this the Government had sent out a survey party to mark out sections and roads. The name of the locality was derived from Alfred Langhorne, who brought a mob of cattle overland from New South Wales in 1841, and for some time held country thereabouts known as Langhornes Station.A mile or two to the east and extending to the River Murray was dense scrub, with its wallabies, kangaroos and emus.
Mr. Potts selected for his future homestead and vineyard Section 3560, Hundred of Freeling, comprising 120 acres, for which he paid �1 an acre. The date of the grant was April 4, 1850. At the same time he acquired Section 3557 of 97 acres, and a few years later Section 3567 of 75 acres. Mr. Potts later named this property BLEASDALE after the Rev. John Ignatius Bleasdale, D.D., a prominent member of the Royal Society of Victoria and President of the first Intercolonial Exhibition in 1865. Dr. Bleasdale, who was born in Lancashire, spent most of his early years in Portugal and possessed an intimate knowledge of viticulture. The hardest work of Mr. Potts's life, now commenced. There was a house to build, a portion of the land to be fenced, and a crop to be put in. His first house or hut, was a temporary one of sawn slabs. Crevices were sealed with clay and the roof thatched with reeds from Tolderol Point on Lake Alexandrina, five miles away. As soon as the place was ready for occupation his wife came out from Adelaide to join him. We pay a tribute to the grit, courage and devotion of this girl of eighteen in going out to face the perils and discomforts of the
Mr. Potts had a team of working bullocks and a dray, and made his own plough. Amongst the first things he found necessary, were a sawpit where redgum logs could be cut into slabs for use in building, a workshop in which he could make many things he needed, and a forge so that he might mend a bullock chain and point his ploughshare. Nothing gave him greater pleasure than to get a rough log to the sawpit and turn out length after length of quartering, joists and flooring. Shingles for roofing were also split from the most suitable logs.
On the open land of his holding he first grew wheat, getting as much as 30 bushels to the acre and selling it for 11/- a bushel. Soon after this the Victorian gold rush set in, and Langhornes Creek being on the old overland route, there passed his door many a party of adventurers on their way to Ararat and beyond. Mr. Potts was not tempted to join them. He said that a bar of iron in his workshop, out of which he could make something, was of more immediate interest to him than a phantom nugget of gold hundreds of miles away.
A wayside inn being required for the benefit of travellers, Mr. Potts was prevailed upon to build it of redgum posts and weatherboards of the same sturdy timber, with roof of shingles. The old place, some quarter of a mile from the Bleasdale homestead, is still standing, the only alteration being that an iron roof has been put on it. It ceased to be a public house long since, and for many years has been the dwelling of dairy farmers.
The first wheat that Mr. Potts grew was reaped with sickles, blacks who frequented the district helping with this work. Later on he made his own reaping machine. He humoured the blacks and always got on well with them, but early realised that the men would not do much work. Sometimes accompanied by their lubras they came from the lakes with wild ducks and sought to exchange them for the white man's tobacco or flour. A photograph dating from about 1861 shows that Mr. Potts had what must have been one of the most primitive sawmills in Australia, worked by bullock power.
Meanwhile the family was growing. Six sons were born-William, Fred, Henry, Frank, Edward and Louis-William lived only one year-also four daughters, Annie, Elizabeth, Lucy and Augusta. Unfortunately Mrs. Potts did not survive the birth of her fourth daughter Augusta, and mother and infant were laid to rest in the family cemetery. At a later date Mr. Potts married Miss Anne Flood, of Langhornes Creek, and two more sons, Arthur and Richard, were born.
A VINEYARD IS PLANTED
We come now to the planting of the original 30 acres of what is today the Bleasdale vineyard. The land chosen was immediately on either bank of the Bremer, the time in the early sixties. The character of the creek is that the extreme brow of the bank is slightly higher than the adjacent land for a distance of half to three-quarters of a mile away. Mr. Potts could see that a stream of water running along the brow of the bank could be taken into side rows at certain distances all along, and on these lines he set to work. The land was cleared of gums, some of these were five and six feet in diameter. Those selected as suitable were split and sawn up for trellissing posts. Everything was grubbed out to a foot or 15 inches below the surface. The land was then deeply ploughed at right angles to the general course of the creek with a plough, the body, beam and handles of which had been made of redgum by Mr. Potts himself, and it was drawn by eight bullocks yoked in pairs. A main water channel was excavated along either bank of the creek about 18 inches wide and 10 inches deep.
On the bank of the creek at the up-stream end of the vineyard Mr. Potts constructed a water-pumping mill of redgum. (excepting the bolts and the leather on the pumps), also entirely of his own design. Four bullocks worked it and it operated four redgum pumps 6 inches in the square inside, with a stroke of about 3 ft. to 3 ft. 6 in. A well about 9 ft. in diameter was sunk to a depth of about 20 ft. to the level of the bed of the creek and a tunnel driven from one to the other. In this well the pumps were placed, and every time the bullocks came round each pump was operated twice. It was claimed that this mill would raise 10,000 to 12,000 gallons an hour. The water raised was conducted along the main channel and then off into the side rows at 8 ft. intervals. An aqueduct (redgum) was thrown across the Bremer, at this point 70 ft. wide, to irrigate the other side. The vines planted in that first year were principally Shiraz and Verdelho, which were obtained from near Adelaide. Irrigation was kept up as long as the supply in the creek lasted, generally from June until November. As many as five or six good soakings were given the young vines in the first year with the aid of Mr. Potts's ingenious pumping plant, and so successful was its functioning, that loss of vines was not more than 4 per cent.
After the vineyard had been planted the next task confronting Mr. Potts was to provide himself with wine cellars and the necessary equipment for processing his grapes into wine. The clay excavated from the cellars was moulded and baked into bricks on the property, and his other achievements included the making of twin presses, wine pumps, casks and vats-all of redgum sawn on the place. He also built a still. Prior to this time he had made his own bullock dray, jinker for the transport of heavy logs to the sawpit, and several windmills for erection on the property.
A Strong Individualist
Mr. Potts later built and erected his own floodgates on ditches leading from the Bremer to regulate inundations of the vineyard when the creek came down in flood. Several redgurn bridges also spanned the stream. Having in mind the limited material resources at Mr. Potts's disposal, particularly when he first settled at Langhornes Creek, a well-known Churchillian phrase might be adapted to read: Seldom, indeed, was so much accomplished by one self-reliant, resourceful and energetic man with so little. After the death of his first wife he shaped a huge tombstone (to serve later on for his own) from a two-ton boulder of bluestone, which was hauled to Bleasdale by bullocks from many miles away in the hills. This tombstone, as rugged as the pioneer Who lies beneath it, is still to be seen in a secluded corner of the property in the shelter of three big, ivy-covered gums, where the old man established a private cemetery at the time of his first wife's death.
As was to be expected of a man who liked doing everything for himself, and doing it in his own way, Mr. Potts was a strong individualist. He believed in doing a fair thing by and for everyone. As time went on he expressed a dislike for what he regarded as growing interference by the Government with the wine industry, per medium of the Excise regulations. As soon, therefore, as his third son, Frank Potts II, was old enough to take over the responsibility of Bleasdale winery, distillery and vineyard, the father appointed him to do so. Young Frank had already shown a keen and intelligent interest in all three, and appeared to have in him the makings of a good and popular businessman. He soon became widely known for his geniality and hospitality. Meanwhile three other sons, Fred, Henry and Edward, had branched out in the planting of their own vineyards. Edward later established a small winery of his own, known as the 'Wookaburra Cellars, in which he made and installed some twenty redgum vats of 600 gallons capacity. This small cellar operated for some years, but was ultimately absorbed by the Bleasdale Cellars on the death of Edward Potts in 1919. Later in life, Mr. Potts, sen., apart from exercising a general oversight at Bleasdale, confined his activities in the main to his former love boatbuilding.
In 1875 he built the paddle-wheel steamer WILCANNIA at Milang for Mr. Landseer, as well as the BOURKE (1877). He is also remembered as having built the sailing boats PASQUIN, FOX, TAM 0' SHANTER, SOUTER JOHNNIE, ARK, SWALLOW, CHALLENGER and BUTTERFLY, several barges, and a punt for Mr. Rankine, used by that settler for crossing stock over the Murray at the upper end of Hindmarsh Island. The sailing boats were built at Langhornes Creek and taken to the water by bullock dray, then launched and rigged. TAM 0' SHANTER and SOUTER JOHNNIE were no doubt amongst the earliest boats on Lake Alexandrina, carrying wheat chiefly to Goolwa, 90 to 100 bags each trip. Mr. Potts had two ex-sailors working for him for some time, and as an extra reward for their labours he started them with a wheat boat on Lake Alexandrina.
With one of his yachts Mr. Potts raced with some distinction at Port Adelaide, and we find complimentary references to him in Mr. justice W. H. Bundey's Reminiscences of Twenty-five Years' Yachting in Australia The writer was for many years Commodore of the South Australian Yacht Club. His book was published in 1888, and the following passage occurs in a chapter on yachting on Lakes Alexandrina and Albert:-
Of all the public-spirited efforts in South Australia so far as yachting is concerned, that of Mr. Frank Potts of Langhornes Creek, must bear the palm. He designed, built and rigged a yacht, brought her overland to Port Adelaide from Langhornes Creek, entered and sailed her against the crack river craft and, although unsuccessful in the contest, the pluckiness of the undertaking will long be remembered by yachtsmen. The best proof of how it was appreciated at the time was shown by an address from the South Australian Yacht Club, which was presented to him. For many years boats of this gentleman's construction have been competing with others in annual regattas upon our lakes at Milang and elsewhere.
In the 1880's and 1890's the eldest son, Fred Potts (also a builder of
yachts) was represented in these regattas by PASTIME, DARWIN, GALATEA, NYROCA and BRIGAND.
A Plain Cloths Man
The pioneer subject of this biographical sketch was a man of medium height and spare build, healthy, wiry and of abstemious habits. He spent most of his life in loose-fitting work attire, and even on any of his rare visits to Adelaide would not dress himself up as a townsman. His brother-in-law was the Hon. Sir Henry Ayers, a prominent member of the Legislative Council for many years-twelve of them as President-and for some time Premier of South Australia. Then plain Mr. Ayers, he became the registered owner on July 5, 1850, of Section 356 1, adjoining Bleasdale. Mr. Potts on deciding to stay in South Australia had sent to England for his ageing father, Laurence Potts (who had been a bookseller) and his only sister, Lucy, to come out. In course of time Lucy became Lady Ayers.
The subject of our sketch must have been a strange-looking character when, on Kangaroo Island, he wore a jacket of wallaby skins sewn together by himself. This was about the time in August, 1844, of the incident to which Police Inspector Tolmer referred in Volume 1 of his Reminiscences (pp. 311-312). Tolmer, who later became Commissioner of Police for South Australia, left Port Adelaide in charge of a party of police to apprehend three runaway convicts from New South Wales who were reported to be harbouring there. He goes on:
Upon receipt from settlers of news that two or three strangers were living in a hut at American River we proceeded to a point where Mr. Buick resided, struck into the bush and stealthily approached the hut. Upon coming in sight we rushed forward, and as we did so two or three rough-looking characters quickly issued from the doorway. Being in front of my party, I seized the foremost of these and had him on his back in an instant and held him in that position with my knee on his chest and left hand on his throat, whilst with my right I held a pistol at his head and demanded Who are you? to which he replied, Potts. Whereupon I sprang up and apologised for the rough treatment he had received. He took it all in good humour, however, and laughed at the incident. I have often heartily laughed at the recollection of my first meeting with Frank Potts, who for many years has been a resident of Langhornes Creek, engaged in the cultivation of an extensive vineyard and wine making.
Then comes the following spontaneous tribute of admiration by Inspector Tolmer, bearing out what has already been claimed for the inventive talents, industry and resourcefulness of this same Frank Potts:
The Perfect Genius
One meets with extraordinary characters through life, but I doubt whether his equal could be found. In appearance a stranger would take him to be a poor labourer, with a thin, spare figure and long unkempt hair and invariably wearing his shirt sleeves tucked up. Altogether a most uncouth-looking person, and yet this man is a perfect genius! There is not a single thing mechanical or otherwise undertaken by him which he does not succeed in accomplishing. He is his own builder, carpenter, cooper, smith, shoemaker, and has even manufactured a piano and, being withal a bookworm, his conversation is most interesting and instructive. As a boatbuilder, there is not a better in the colony. Several very fast yachts have been built by him. One especially for Mr. Allan McFarlane, of Wellington, the PASQUIN. He likewise built for Messrs. J. and A. Cooke the celebrated cutter SWALLOW, which has traded for many years between Kingston and Port Adelaide with the regularity of a steamer, and is now the property of the Colonial Government.
Pioneers of the calibre of Frank Potts were a fine sample of the British race. Such people evinced great boldness in coming to this State when they did, for it was no light undertaking to leave the comforts and conveniences of civilisation and venture forth to settle in a country whose geographical position was not generally understood and of whose productive capacity next to nothing was known. Certainly the founder of Bleasdale was made of the right stuff and well worthy of the grand old land that gave him birth.
PROGRESS AND DEVELOPMENT
On the death of Frank Potts I in 1890 his third son, Frank Potts II, ably and loyally assisted by Fritz Werizel as head cellarman and cooper, carried on the enterprise, and in 1892 it is recorded he produced 12,000 gallons of wine. About 1904 he purchased the Bridge Hotel at Langhornes Creek with the adjoining 90 acres of land, which he proceeded to clear and plant. In 1913 there was a further extension of the vineyards by 20 acres of fresh planting. The following year Mr Potts's health began to fail and he died in August, 1917, leaving a widow, six sons and four daughters.
Mrs. Potts pluckily decided to carry on the business and, with the assistance of the older members of her large family, steady progress was made, despite the depression years. Further property was added to the estate, and portions of the old vineyards were replanted. On the death of Mrs. Potts in 1935, the estate was divided-Messrs. Arthur B., Henry L., Alan V., and Dudley Potts all receiving sections, and the first-named inheriting the winery and original 100 acres.
Construction of a Weir
One of Mr. A. B. Potts's first undertakings was to build a steel weir in the creek where it intersects the property. This substantial improvement makes it possible now to flood the whole of the vineyard with a very small flow of water in the Bremer. A solid redgum bridge has also been added just above the weir. A fleet of tractors has long since replaced the lumbering bullock teams of the old days, and the brothers have replanted all available land on their holdings. Between them they produce approximately 1,000 tons of grapes each vintage. These, together with other grapes grown in the district, produce about 300,000 gallons of wine annually. Fermenting and storage cellars have been doubled, and a modern still has been installed in the past few years, but the huge press and long rows of redgum vats still remain as a monument to those who laid the foundations about 80 years ago.
In 1948 the owner, together with members of his family and brothers Henry and Alan, converted the business into a company, Bleasdale Vineyards Ltd. The former owner's eldest daughter, June, is now secretary, while his only son, John, is the fourth generation of the Potts family at Bleasdale.
A Family of War Heros
Of the descendants of the founder, Frank Potts 1, six grandsons fought for Australia in World War 1, L. H. (Ally) Daenke, of the 43rd Battalion, A.I.F., being killed in action at Pozieres in France, and Frank Potts III dying as the result of war injuries after his return to Australia. In World War II two grandsons and several great grandsons were in the services. Of the former, Dudley Potts, of the R.A.A.F., was lost when the MONTE VIDEO MARU was sunk in Japanese waters. Other members of the third generation have given long service in the rifle clubs and V.D.C. movement. Three of them, Arthur, Henry and Alan, appear to have inherited some of their grandfather's interest in gunpowder, as they have all represented South Australia for many years on the rifle range, while Arthur was a member of the Australian rifle team which competed in the Empire match at Sydney in 1938. It is interesting to recall that a former Arthur, old Mr. Potts's elder son by his second marriage, gave brilliant promise as an art student under Mr. H. P. Gill at the School of Design in Adelaide, and on the recommendation of the Director went to England in 1902 to study under Sir Hubert Herkomer, R.A. In 1903 one of his pictures was shown at the Royal Academy Exhibition in London. Whilst on a sketching expedition to the Scottish Highlands in the following year he had the misfortune to contract a chill from which a fatal illness developed. This Arthur was also a keen lover of cricket, and a sketch by him on the subject of an England versus Australia test match is at the National Art Gallery in Adelaide. His death in his early twenties was undoubtedly a loss to Australian art.
In conclusion, we look back again to 1850, and remember with gratitude and pride those stout-hearted people who so ably assisted in laying the foundations of the flourishing viticultural industry that South Australia enjoys today.
GRAPE GROWING IN THE DISTRICT
|Following the successful planting of wine grapes at Bleasdale in the early 'sixties, other owners of the rich alluvial flats along the Bremer also started planting small plots of vines, the first being Mr. Hector, who established a vineyard of some fifteen acres, principally Verdielho, and built a cellar on a property known as Montura about 1880. Ten redgum vats of a capacity of 1,200 gallons each, were made and installed in this cellar by the founder of Bleasdale, Frank Potts. The cellar has long been closed and the vats removed to Bleasdale and Metala Cellars, where they are still in use. About 1890, Mr. Arthur Formby, of Metala, planted about thirty acres of Shiraz and Cabernet, built a cellar, and went in for the production of Burgundy for export to England. Early in the nineteenth century these cellars were taken over by Mr. Ronald Martin, of Stonyfell Vineyards, Burnside, and considerably extended. More of the Potts redgum vats found their way into these cellars, where some 300 tons of wine grapes are treated annually. |
Since these early plantings, a considerable area has been placed under vines by various local growers, until grape growing has become the major industry in the district. About 3,000 tons of fruit are harvested each year. The most prominent of these growers is Mr. Angus Borrett, who has a model vineyard of approximately 70 acres. Mr. Borrett married the third daughter of Frank Potts In South Australia, which is the leading grape growing State of the Australian Commonwealth, several methods of manuring and irrigating are practised. In the River Murray Valley areas, for instance, irrigation is obtained by pumping, and manuring by the planting of cover crops, while in the fertile Barossa Valley the vinegrower relies generally on the natural rainfall for his requirements. The Langhornes Creek method is possibly the only one in Australia where a whole vineyard is watered and manured by diverting floodwaters from a river simply by opening or closing a weir. This method is most economical, and ensures a regular and heavy crop each year, some six tons of good quality Shiraz per acre being obtained.
Shiraz has proved to be the most suitable variety on the heavier type soils, whilst Palomino and Verdielho are more adapted for the lighter soils. A normal return for these varieties would be ten and six tons respectively per acre each year. In the more recent years Grenache has been extensively planted, with returns of up to ten tons an acre. Owing to the exceptionally strong growth all varieties are trellised.
Prior to World War I a considerable acreage of Zante currants were planted and exceptionally heavy crops were produced, the largest grower being Mr. Howard, of the Peachabella vineyards and packing shed. Unfortunately, owing to the close proximity of Lakes Alexandrina and Albert, from which direction the prevailing winds blow, and the lateness of the ripening period each year, considerably difficulty has been experienced in attempting to dry this fruit and normally most of it is handled by the distilleries.
In the aftermath of World War II, a significant event occurred which was to have a most important bearing on the Australian wine industry. Thousands of displaced Europeans migrated to Australia hoping to find a better lifestyle than that of war-ravaged Europe. With the migrants came their penchant for foods and wines practically unknown to Australians at that time. In the true tradition of their homelands, many of the migrants manufactured their own wines from grapes purchased from commercial growers. For this purpose the majority sought the prolific grape variety grenache which produced a light red table wine, appealing to the palates of these newcomers to Australia. Within a decade, indigenous Australians were also developing a taste for table wines and a major wine boom was born.
The Langhorne Creek district, favoured with a temperate summer climate due to its close proximity to Lake Alexandrina, proved to be an ideal environment for the production of red table wines. In particular, the shiraz and grenache which grew there were much sought after by home winemakers and wineries. As the popularity of the table wines grew so did the demand for better quality and vignerons began to realise the need to revise their viticultural practices.
Winemakers became more discriminating and the variety cabernet sauvignon came into prominence as the most prestigious of all the red wine grapes. Stonyfell Wines, under the Metala label, began producing award winning show wines from the 1890 shiraz and cabernet sauvignon plantings at Langhorne Creek. The original cabernet sauvignon vines are still producing fruit at the great age of 96 years, quite an achievement when most commercial vineyards are replanted after 40 years. Bleasdale also entered dry reds in wine shows and won a number of medals, helping to set the high standards in red wines for which Langhorne Creek has become so well known. In 1967 Wolfgang Blass purchased cabernet sauvignon and shiraz from two Langhorne Creek growers and had outstanding success in Australian wine shows with the wine he produced. All these successes, and the general change in the market, prompted further plantings of cabernet sauvignon and this variety has now become the dominant one in the district.
Southern Vales Co-Operative
Prior to 1960 practically the entire Langhorne Creek grape crop was absorbed by Bleasdale. However the keen demand for grapes at that time led to a sharp increase in grape prices and an expansion in vine plantings. Bleasdale, the only local winery, chose not to expand at that time to accept the additional fruit and growers sought outside markets. A co-operative winery, Southern Vales, was formed at McLaren Vale and headed by Mr.Ambrose Tonkin of Langhorne Creek. A large percentage of Langhorne Creek fruit was diverted to that winery.
Other markets developed in the metropolitan area and the Barossa Valley and by 1970 more than half of the production was being freighted out of the district. This trend has continued with the increasing demand for premium wine grapes and from the present plantings of approximately 420 hectares, which produce an average 6,000 tonnes of grapes per annum, almost 80 per cent of the local wine grape production is now being processed in the Barossa Valley.
During the last decade several other vitis vinifera varieties well known in European vineyards have been introduced to South Australia and Langhorne Creek grapegrowers are now producing noteworthy tonnages of merlot, cabernet franc, ruby cabernet, malbec and pinot noir. The majority of these new varieties are blended by the winemakers rather than being bottled as separate varietals. The resultant red wines from this area have been instrumental in collecting more gold medal awards in Australian wine shows over each of the four years 1981-1984 than any other wine producing district in Australia.
In the white table wine field success has not been so easy to achieve although some excellent wines are produced. Palomino has been most prominent in the production of sparkling table wines and a large quantity of this variety is still being grown. Verdielho, a variety made famous by the sweet white wines of the Madeira Isles in the Atlantic Ocean, has been grown in the district since the first plantings in the 1860's. Bleasdale has produced some very fine sweet whites from this variety and, more recently, an excellent white burgundy has also been produced. Rhine riesling, white frontignac, colombard and chardonnay have all been planted in the district and, of these varieties, chardonnay is showing great promise in wine shows and appears to have a promising future as a table wine and wine grape in the production of champagne.
An Abundance of Water
The Langhorne Creek wine grape district, situated as it is on the flood plain of the Bremer River which emanates in the Mt. Barker watershed, is favoured in most years with a copious quantity of flood water which is held on the vineyards during winter to completely soak the subsoil thus enabling the vines to subsist in the summer growing period on the moisture away during the winter. In drier years when the river flow is insufficient to inundate the vineyards naturally, four weirs strategically placed along the river divert the water out of the stream into the adjacent vineyards, emulating the natural flooding of wetter years.
When drought occurs and the river flow is nil or insignificant most of the vineyards can be irrigated from the subartesian basin which underlies the flood-plain. This groundwater has also been used extensively over the last few years in the form of trickle irrigation to apply a supplementary watering to the vines in late summer to prevent moisture stress in the ripening fruit.
With the improved viticultural practices of the last two decades (e.g. clonal selection of various vine varieties, more efficient fungicides, supplementary irrigation and improved trellising methods and pruning styles) grape production, as measured in tonnes per hectare, has risen markedly while quality has been maintained or improved. Perhaps the most notable increase in production figures, due to clonal selection and improved viticultural practice, has been with the variety cabernet sauvignon. Twelve tonnes per hectare was once regarded as a good crop of this variety but in recent years 18 tonnes per hectare has become the norm on the better soils of the district.
Although the wine grape growing industry is being plagued with many problems in marketing, overproduction and rising costs, growers in the Langhorne Creek district remain a viable entity due in no small measure to the production of quality grapes and moderate production costs combined with an ideal climatic environment. Without the foresight of the early pioneers of the district, the potential for quality wine grape production would not have been realised.
PROGRESSION THROUGH THE YEARS
|Earlier times up to 1950 |
The story of Frank Potts I, the resourceful and extraordinarily talented founder of Bleasdale, is covered in the first section of this book. His undoubted initiative and foresight cannot be overestimated and the existence of the winery today, with its solid limestone and redgum buildings and long history of quality wine production, is a constant tribute to his skills and endeavour. From the early years of land clearing, farming, vine planting and building a home, workshop and cellars, until he handed the control of the vineyards and winery over to his son, Frank 11, this pioneer showed a strength of purpose and ability to adapt his surroundings to suit his needs which can only be admired.
The building of the winery as it is today occurred over a period of many years. In the 1880s, as more vines came into production, Frank I built the limestone, brick and redgum cellar which was to become the core of the winery. Other structures were added as necessary. In this building, grapes were crushed in a belt-driven crusher up on a high platform located near the first redgum lever press which was built in the 1880s. Thus, in another example of using a simple principle to his own advantage, Frank I was able to use gravity to run the juice and skins down wooden channels from the crusher directly into the press or fermenting tanks. A smaller boiler and pot still were used to extract the spirit from lesser quality wines and this then went to fortify the ports, sherries and dessert wines which were made.
From the 1870s, redgum vats were made at Bleasdale from the local corn
timber which was handsawn at the cellars. The huge logs, hauled in by jinker,
were broken down over a sawpit using a 10 ft. long crosscut saw, with one sawyer on top of the log and the other in the unenviable position below in the pit. The 1,500-9,000 litre vats, still in use today, were constructed under the supervision of a cooper and hauled into the cellars with ropes, pulleys, rollers and manpower. For many years the cooper responsible for the vat building and keg maintenance was Fritz Werizel, helped by capable
characters as shown in the accompanying photographs.
To improve on the original equipment, a Cornish boiler was installed and a distillery house erected in the 1920s. This massive boiler was brought to Langhorne Creek from Adelaide on a wagon drawn by a team of 14 horses. On arrival, the expert teamster manoeuvred the horses into position alongside the previously built brick base and the boiler was then, using a stack of bricks as an anchor for the braking chains, rolled onto the base. It remains and there to this day. A feature of the now obsolete distillery is the 50 ft. high red brick chimney which was constructed to provide the draught for the boiler and still dominates the winery buildings.
By the 1920s the winery was being run by Alice Potts, widow of the genial Frank Potts II and an astute and capable businesswoman who, with the aid of her sons and daughters, saw Bleasdale through the difficult times between World Wars I and II. As part of the continued development and expansion of the cellars carried out at this time, fermenting tanks, a crusher and four underground tanks were built in the area near the redgum press and used in conjunction with the distillery. The spirit produced in these expanded facilities was not only used for fortification but was also purchased bycompanies such as Stonyfell. Fortified wine was sold to the Emu Wine Co. which exported large quantities of sweet wines to England.
During this period (1930s and 1940s) winemaking and blending were carried out by Toot Wenzel and A. V. (Diddy) Potts, grandson of the founder. Although neither had any formal training, their years of acquired expertise and familiarity with the local conditions ensured an ongoing supply of consistent quality fortified wines.
Distillation of wine for spirit was undertaken twenty-four hours a day, six days a week (the boiler stopped from midnight Saturday 'fil midnight Sunday) and continued for several months during and immediately after vintage. The twenty-four hour day was divided into two twelve-hour shifts which were worked for many years by Henry Case and H. L. (Fiddle) Potts assisted by boiler attendants, some of whom were Rex Martin, Fred Fletcher, Elon Martin, Ray Potts, Len Mott, John Potts, Joe Woodrow, Jeff Scutchings and Charlie Clifford. Distillation was conducted under the supervision of the Customs Department and the Excise Officers were on hand at all times to check the movement of wine and the production of spirit. The fortified wine was kept under bond until a blend was to be made at that stage the duty was paid and the required wine released from bond by the Excise Officer. A collection of photos at Bleasdale (called The Rogues Gallery) shows that the Excise Officers not only saw to the needs of the Customs Department but also had time for recreation. Some are shown carrying their bag of ducks or rabbits as a result of hunting expeditions while others enjoyed fishing, racing or cardplaying. Officialdom came in for some fairly casual treatment in those days as shown by the following tales. The first is quoted from a letter written by A. B. Potts to the Customs Department when he presented them with a copy of the original Bleasdale Centenary Book.
The 'Leaking' Brandy Barrel
Then, of course, there was the time-honoured story of the old cask of brandy that was in the spirit store and each time an Excise Officer visited the place he drew off a sample (it was not clear whether it was for himself or the Senior Inspector). However, my late father, Frank Potts 11, also took the opportunity of drawing off a sample for himself, until the day arrived when some young and enthusiastic officer came along and, on taking a dip, reported the discrepancy, which showed the cask as just on empty. Records do not show whether the cask was written off as a total loss, due to a leaky barrel, or whether the Excise Department paid for half the duty and my Dad the rest. I think this occurred when Mr. Clarke was at the wheel. As a small boy I remember when Mr. Clarke was due for a visit there would always be a couple of roast turkeys for lunch, so possibly the cask of brandy would have been written off.
There was also the time, during a particularly busy period of the vintage when the fermented skins were being removed from the fermenting tanks. Shovels and wheelbarrows were being used and the whole area was covered with the debris of vintage. Into this walked an unexpected visitor~a neat official from the Bureau of Statistics. He approached Fred Potts, a long time worker at Bleasdale and a man with a dry sense of humour, and, after the usual pleasantries, said, �I want to find out about some statistics.�
Oh, said Fred, we're not doing statistics today. We're doing Shiraz.
As well as the developments taking place in the cellars during the 1930s, there were many improvements in the vineyards, mainly instigated by A. B. Potts. He was the eldest son of Frank Potts II and helped his mother during her trusteeship of Bleasdale before inheriting the winery on her death in 1935. Over the years the area behind the cellars was transformed from a swampy alternative water course to a well-planned vineyard, mainly by the
building of a large bank and ditches. Leith Whittlesea did much of this work with his big bulldozer, a rare sight in those days. Another major change at that time was the erection of the weir across the Bremer in 1939, a joint venture by Bleasdale and Angus Borrett whose property was downstream but without usable river frontage. The weir is used to divert the flow of the Bremer into the vineyards through an integral system of channels and levees ;
which allow the water to pass from one vineyard to another.
As new plantings of vines were established, posts were needed for trellising and many trips were made to the Adelaide hills behind Strathalbyri to cut timber for this purpose as well as for use in the boiler-hard work done by Bleasdale employees under the guidance of A. B. Potts. From paintings which appeared about this time, however, it seems that the boss at least had time off during some of these expeditions.
Since 1950 - A Change in Emphasis
The same general mode of operation in winemaking continued until the early 1960s when the demand for table wines necessitated a dramatic change in the operations of the company. At this time, the use of table wines became more popular and there were major reassessments being made in wineries as new wine styles, technology and marketing trends emerged. Bleasdale with its long history of fortified winemaking, but having had a bulk dry red on its price list for many years, began making varietal reds in 1961 when a small
tonnage of Malbec from H. L. (Fiddle) Potts' vineyard was crushed.
After the deaths of A. B. Potts and his wife in 1962, management of the winery was taken over by their son John and daughters June and Mickie. The red wine boom began at Bleasdale with the first dry red bottling in 1963 of the 1961 vintage Malbec. The 300 gallons were laboriously corked by hand and a simple label attached. It was very well accepted and Bleasdale has been making a varietal red wine from Malbec ever since. Other red wines were added to this range until it included Special Vintage Shiraz, Shiraz/0eillade blend, Claret and, introduced in 1971, Cabernet Sauvignon. White table wines were coming into their own and were added to the range beginning with a full-bodied dry white Verdielho produced from some of the grapes previously only used for making the luscious madeira-style fortified Verdielho.
Sparkling Wine & Stainless Steel
In keeping with the trends becoming apparent, and following his personal interest in white wines in particular, Jeff Scutchings began experimenting with sparkling wines in the early 1960s, producing small batches in stainless steel kegs and resulting in the release of Bremer Gold in 1964. He also moved to have modern stainless steel and refrigeration equipment installed for the white wines believing, long before it became a widely held belief, that not only was it vital to use grapes of optimum maturity and with everything in balance but that processing should be aimed at maintaining this 100 per cent quality. Later Jeff produced the heavy pack Brut, Demi-Sec, Spumante, Cold Duck and Pink and Sweet Sekt all of which sold in large quantities to the rapidly expanding eastern states market.
To house this new operation, and to enable the development of the varietal white table wines, there was a major reconstruction to form the current white wine section of the winery. The old redgum lever press was last used in 1962 when an airbag stainless steel Wilmes press was purchased. Approximately 50 brick fermenting tanks were demolished and the area used for installation of stainless steel tanks, refrigeration, white wine drainers, pressure fermenters and twelve new brick tanks for red wine manufacture.
New crushers and tipping bins were also installed, a fork lift was purchased and new storage areas were gained. This main operative section of the winery was also put under one roof which made the day to day operations easier. While some fortified wines continued to be produced, the need for the stills to produce the fortifying spirit rapidly diminished and, in 1967, the still and boiler were used for the last time. Distillation wine, lees and marc from
the vintage operations are now taken to Tarac at Nuriootpa and the resultant spirit returned to Bleasdale for use in the fortified winemaking.
The Fortified Wine Tradition
The tradition of fortified winemaking, however, remains an important part of Bleasdale and there have been some notable releases in recent years. In 1973, John Potts decided that the Shiraz which had been left to ripen for fortifying would make good vintage port material. The port made was most successful, winning a gold medal at its first Wine Show, and a vintage port has continued to be made in years when the grapes are considered to have the required sweetness, fruitiness and quality. Also well remembered are the 1964 Verdielho and Palomino, 35 gallon casks of which had been left near the cellar roof until approximately 50 per cent of the wine had evaporated. These rare wines were bottled rather than being used for blending and were quickly bought by appreciative customers. Until recently, the actual winemaking was the result of co-operative effort between the family members and long term employees who developed their instinctive knowledge and skills over the years to become, virtually, winemakers and blenders themselves. Toot Wenzel and Norm Ross both worked for A. B. Potts while, later, John Potts and jeff Scutchings had the assistance of Norm Ross and Horrie Noles. Between them they continued Bleasdale's traditional fortified wines and developed the early table wines.
From 1976 to the end of 1982, as well as family involvement in the winemaking, two younger winemakers were employed. lain Riggs (19 76-1980), who had been at Bleasdale during his Roseworthy Oenology course, returned and helped develop the table wine area. lan Garnham (1981-1982) came at short notice and dealt capably with a hectic vintage year, then helped Michael Potts for a year. Michael, who completed the Oenology course at Roseworthy and then worked at Mildara before returning to Bleasdale in 1982, is the son of John Potts-so the family tradition continues.
CUSTOMERS, CELLAR DOOR SALES & MARKETING
|No business can survive without customers and, in its long history, Bleasdale has had many thousands of them, in some cases even several generations of the same family. |
The early wine sales consisted mainly of fortified wines (ports, sherries, muscat and verdielho) which were sold to both private customers and licensed dealers in barrels of many sizes-5 gallon kegs were a popular size for private customers while 10 gallon kegs, octaves (20 galls), quarter casks (35 galls) and hogsheads (65 galls) were used to send wine to the hotels, wine shops and other wine companies. Hotels and wine shops did their own bottling and labelling of these bulk wines, employing a handyman for this purpose, until the wine shops were closed and the drinking facilities in the hotels were upgraded. Wine sold to the hotels and private customers, unable to call at the cellars, was sent by train from Strathalbyn to all parts of the State as well as interstate. It was delivered to the station by means of bullock wagons or horse-drawn vehicles. A. V. (Diddy) Potts, as a young lad, used to be one of the drivers. He would wag school to deliver casks of wine to Strathalbyri, Callington and Echunga, driving the horses and dray along side roads, on his father's advice, to avoid the wrath of the school teacher.
The first motor vehicle acquired for delivering wine was a Ford one ton tray truck (affectionately known as The One Tonner') and the horses were replaced by mechanised transport. A Mr. F. J. Schirmer of Tailem Bend used to work at the Strathalbyri Railway Station in 1940 and recalls helping unload the truck when it arrived each Tuesday and Thursday with kegs, jars, etc. In the days of petrol rationing during World War 11, this was a fairly extravagant schedule and it was essential to ensure that a full load of 5-6 tonnes was
carried each trip.
The current cellar door sales shed was built in 1945. Originally, jars and small kegs, and later flagons, were filled directly from hogsheads on racks inside the shed and sold to customers. In 1962, as the trend towards bottled wines grew, a bottle-filling machine was purchased and, between selling wine to the relatively few customers, Mickie Clifford, and her helper Grace Martin, hand labelled bottles and flagons.
With the increasing trend towards bottled wines, this job expanded and a separate bottling and labelling area was developed in the main cellar. As more equipment was installed, these operations became more efficient and today, although not fully automatic, this department has the flexibility to do small runs and the capability to handle large orders.
Mickie Clifford, who has been the sales lady and guide at Bleasdale for
many years, is well known for her informative winery tours and unfailing
attention to her customers. She has many tales to tell of her experiences in the cellar door sales area and has had to handle any number of ingenuous questions and comments, frequently heard by sales staff as the public endeavour to understand the complex world of wines. In her own words:
The following story shows how word of mouth advertising can bear fruit. I had the experience one day when a smartly dressed young woman strode purposefully into the sales shed and, much to the astonishment of the other customers, said, �Is this where they sell the best port in Australia?�
�Yes,� I said, unabashed, �you must mean the Pioneer Port.�
It transpired that she had just flown from Melbourne to Adelaide and, as the plane passed over Langhorne Creek, the pilot announced over the intercom, to a full complement of passengers, That's where they sell the best port in Australia.' Being an ardent lover of port wines, the girl hired a car in Adelaide and found her way to Bleasdale. Needless to say she left with a supply of port to take back to Melbourne. We later discovered that the pilot was a friend of John Potts and knew Bleasdale well. Altogether, over the years, I have met many people here and have not only found them interesting but have derived much pleasure from my contact with them. I hope that I have been able to return some of this pleasure by making their visits memorable and enjoyable.
Keeping Up With The Markets
The cellar door sales area is only one part of the marketing process. just as the range of customers has changed over the years so has the style of marketing in general. Until the mid-1960s, as mentioned earlier, wine was sold directly to private customers, hotels, bottle shops and other wineries. Advertising was minimal since information about the winery, its wares and hospitality was spread by word of mouth, the best form of promotion.
However the market place was gradually changing and, in 1967, David Mitchell from Melbourne was appointed Bleasdale's representative. With his assistance, new labels were designed and distributors appointed in Melbourne, an untapped market. In 1970 H. G. Brown & Sons began selling Bleasdale wines in N.S.W. and Queensland and the quantities of all lines sold increased.
These arrangements were quite successful until H. G. Brown was absorbed by H. J. Heinz in 1980 at which stage Elder Smith were appointed national distributors for Bleasdale wines. This arrangement continues today through Elder-1XL Wines & Spirits, with a much greater emphasis being put on product presentation, promotional material and general marketing of the Bleasdale image as one of historic background, care and family interest in both winemaking and customer service. Recently a new range of labels was designed and these are now seen on table wines and fortified wines distributed throughout Australia and, in a small way at this stage, to overseas markets.
The Current Generation
In summary, it seems appropriate to look at the current personalities at Bleasdale, those who form part of the long history of the winery and, hopefully will see it into a prosperous, continuing future. The Managing Director is John Potts, only son of A. B. Ports and great grandson of the founder. John is well-known by the members of the winemaking fraternity and associated industries having spent all his working life at Bleasdale and building up these friendships over a long period. Always a keen sportsman, he is also well-known for his past and present prowess in cricket, tennis, football and golf. His wife, Elva, has always supported him, continuing the Bleasdale tradition of friendship and hospitality. Three of John's sons have followed him into the wine business-Michael as winemaker, Rob in the
vineyards and Trevor in the cellars-and daughter Tammy helps out in the cellars, bottling and labelling.
John's sisters, June Scutchings and Mickie Clifford, are directors and have worked at the winery for many years, each making Bleasdale a very important part of their lives. Mickie's daughter, Teresa, came to Bleasdale to help in the office in 1973 and stayed for 8 years, capably keeping the office in order and helping look after the customers. June's daughter, Ann, has been at Bleasdale since 1977 working in both the cellars and office.
Such strong family involvement in the day-to-day operations of Bleasdale augurs well for its future as one of Australia's oldest family-owned wineries maintaining its traditions while providing a range of fine wines and a level of personal service which will see it into the next 150 years.
|This book documents 150 years of the Potts family’s activities in South Australia. It has been compiled from facts supplied by members of the family together with information from other sources. |
The first section concerning the early history of Bleasdale was written by Wilson Berry Smith.
The latter section (1950 - 1985) was compiled and written by a committee of family members, descendents of Frank Potts I.
The books editorial staff include: June Scutchings, Ann Scutchings, John Potts, Len Potts, Mickie Clifford, Oodzie Shillaker and Teresa Tanner.
The History of Bleasdale wines is published on the internet with the kind permission of Bleasdale Vineyards.
Copyright 1986 – Bleasdale Vineyards Pty.Ltd., Langhorne Creek, South Australia.