Brown Brothers is one of Australia’s most successful family-owned wineries thanks to its proud heritage and a willingness to innovate for the future.
Story By Sue Wallace
One of Ross Brown’s earliest memories of the family vineyard at Milawa, in north-eastern Victoria, is riding his bike home from primary school as fast as he could to help his father press grapes by hand. He also recalls the heady smell of the winery and how busy it was at vintage. As a young boy he always loved that time of the year and still does to this day.
Ross, 62, the third son of John Charles Brown and Patricia Brown, was born into one of Australia’s most successful family-owned wineries, Brown Brothers. The first vineyard was planted at Milawa in 1889 by John Francis Brown, Ross’s grandfather, who made his first wines from riesling, shiraz and muscat grapes in a Canadian-style barn, built to withstand snow, which is still used today as a fortified wine store.
The company now employs 300 people, exports to 30 countries in Asia and Europe, and to New Zealand, and the cellar door is among the busiest in Australia with more than 70,000 people tasting wines each year.
Ross says there was never any question as to whether he would follow his three brothers, John Graham Brown and the late Roger and Peter, into the family business. Like his forebears and especially his father, the late John Charles who was often described as a prophet for his foresight into the Australian wine industry, Ross has always looked for new horizons and challenges. But at the same time he has remained acutely aware of the tenacity and hard work of his forebears. “We were always taught to look ahead, search for challenges and not to be just spectators looking in the rear-vision mirror,” he says.
Schooled at Milawa Primary, Wangaratta High School, then Melbourne’s Scotch College, Ross returned to Milawa in 1966 at the age of 18 and took over the bookkeeping, office work and cellar door. Plans of an accountancy correspondence course were shelved as the wine industry started to bloom in the late 1960s and 1970s. “In the early days the cellar door was an old lean-to shed and we had to rug up in the mornings because it was so cold,” Ross says. “We kept the money in an old tobacco tin.”
What set the cellar door apart from others in those days was the fact that Brown Brothers never charged for a tasting. “My father always wanted to make visiting the cellar door a happy experience, so when people went into a bottle shop or restaurant and saw the Brown Brothers label they would remember their visit and buy it,” he says.
This story excerpt is from Issue #77
Outback Magazine: June/July 2011