My Days of Wine

Noel Burge

Noel Burge

July 3rd 2001. I should explain that Noel and I had never met and I phoned Noel's home in early June 2001 He was very pleased that I had rang and we arranged for me to visit, and I went to their home at 39 Bright Terrace Gawler East, and met Noel and Mrs. Burge. Noel was most happy to recall his time at Berri, plus the years after at Lyndoch. And hence the Noel's stories unfold!


Noel's father Percy, was the proprietor of Wilsford Wines at Lyndoch in South Australia and Noel, after studying Agriculture in 1934 and 1935, was granted a scholarship to become a student in the first class of the Formal Diploma of Oenology Course at Roseworthy College during 1936 and 1937 and graduated in January 1938 with 2nd Class Honours and joined the staff at Berri on the 6th April 1938. Noel was the first Roseworthy Oenologist at Berri and he was followed by a considerable list of graduates from the College.

Prior to commencing at Roseworthy, Noel had spent the 1935 vintage with Roger Warren at Hardy's McLaren Vale, and the 1936 vintage with Alan Hooper and Colin Haselgrove at the Emu Wine Company at Morphett Vale. The mid course vintage in 1937 was with Rudi Kronberger at Yalumba Wines at Angaston.

Noel knew Karl Weidenhoffer at Renmark Cooperative Winery and Distillery Ltd and Karl had apparently advised "Warrie" Garnett that Noel was looking for a position. Noel received an offer from Berri and accepted the job. Then to Berri in 1938 and commenced on the 6th April 1938.

Noel recounted how it took a whole day to travel from Lyndoch to Berri. Leaving Lyndoch by train to Gawler and then to Morgan. Next leg was by "Wally" Pendle's eight seat car to the Berri Hotel which was then managed by A. J. "Mert" Lee. He was later President of the National R.S.L. Noel recalled how he approached the housekeeper the next morning for an early breakfast, but was firmly told that his proposed time for breakfast was far too soon for the range to be lit. Noel found a room at the Wandeen Guest House on Riverside Ave at Berri. This was run by a Mrs. Thomas. Years later Wandeen was Brian Barry's home for a period.


Berri Tales from Noel Burge

W. S. Garnett

Noel thought he had been employed by Penfold's Ltd in Sydney.

Appointed as manager in August 1933 and resigned in April 1947.

"Warrie" or "Big Boy" as he was colloquially known or referred to, was a rather autocratic person who expected the respect of everyone. Coming from a business orientation, "Warrie" was able appreciate and understand technical matters. It would seem that his enquiring attitude and consequent decisions in his early years did get the company back on track. If he did not know about a particular problem he knew whom to contact. Noel said that the 1934 vintage had severe microbiological problems and Leo Buring was called down from Sydney to consult, from memory in 1935. Apparently there was little or no use of sulphur dioxide to compliment what should have been the average Baume of 4.5 degrees and 34% proof alcohol. Also there was no real knowledge of the effect of pH. Noel reflects that when he arrived in 1938 the wines were reasonably sound. He also said that Warrie regarded himself as the winemaker and Noel said he just went about his duties in the laboratory looking after the wines.

Due to the poor condition of the wines made before his time Warrie kept Tank 539 or 538, a 1932 Muscat as a quality reference in case any recriminations were brought up during his tenure.

Another story is how Warrie went to England to meet with the Emu Wine Company to beg for an increase of a farthing or perhaps halfpenny per gallon of wine. In England he was sat across the large board table with bright lights in his eyes and the directors verbally pummeled him with the state of the company and the wines in Australia and asked whether his mother was of Jewish extraction etc. However after the 2nd World War was over and trade had increased the same directors came out to Australia to see their various suppliers and Colin Haselgrove was then the manager of the Australian division. Colin had to drive the directors up to Berri. Warrie negotiated a significant increase. Will need to confirm the asking price, which I think was an extra three pence per gallon. That was a real win for the company and of course "Warrie".


Grape Juice Sampling

Noel Burge

In Noel’s time there was system at each crusher consisting of a collection funnel under the crusher that fed to a container. At end of day the average Baume of the grapes processed that day was known. Probably a technique that should have been maintained. Noel also took samples from the vineyards of the later maturing varieties and to used borrow Winks Garnett's small Ford sedan. Recalled Herman Wierenga, Dutch born, telling Noel that when he first arrived in Australia, he could say Yak, Yim and Yoe. Some years later Herman could say Jack, Jim and Joe.


Ray Beckwith Knew Ray well during their long association in the industry and said that Ray was a great stalwart of Penfolds over the years. He knew Ray married Coral Lodge. I said that Ray and Uncle Jock married sisters, Coral and May Lodge. He knew that also.


The Berri Mail

A comment from Noel that it was very obvious that there was very keen competition between Lyle Nairn and Alec Kelly to collect the mail. I can recollect a comment about that situation in 1951 when every now and then Alec Kelly’s "Riley" would arrive and then disappear. It all made sense later as Alec Kelly had been appointed Manager at the infant L. C. W. D. Refer back to 1947 notes.

Battams road House

A house was built for Bill Rump in the area between to two rows of tanks of Block 4. The story goes that there was a stable for the horses as well. This residence was eventually moved to over the railway line adjacent to Battams road. After this the space between the two rows of tanks was covered over and a cask-filling floor was laid with a mezzanine floor above housing wooden vats. Occupants of the relocated house were Charlie Mr. Schultz, the Engineer and then Noel Burge, Doug. and Mary Collett, Brian Barry and then Howard and Clarice Penrhyn until my departure in 1973.


Fortifying Practice

Noel said the usual method was to pump 2000 gallons of spirit into a tank and then pump in the grape juice. This was frowned upon by the Excise who believed the fortification should only be added at the correct time of fermentation to reach a required Baume level.

Noel can remember a result of this practice of placing spirit into an empty tank. He was walking home for lunch when there was a almighty continuous roar from the winery. An employee had apparently inspected the progression with a portable light which must have an electrical fault. Ignition took place and the explosion blew off a number of roof sheets above the tank. The operator must have an inkling and rapidly departed the scene and was not injured. Shades of February 1974!!!!


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