FEWpeople, I believe, have matched the passion, persistence, panache and pursuit of perfection of Murray Robson in his 47 years in Hunter wine.
Murray, who died aged 85 on July 26, was ever the innovator, renowned for his exemplary wines with their hand-signatured labels. He was a three-time “founding father” of what are now the prestigious Davis family Briar Ridge and Pepper Tree operations and the Agnew group’s Audrey Wilkinson brand.
He was the first Hunter winegrower to plant roses at the end of vine rows as an early indicator of disease and the first to build vineyard cottage accommodation.
In 1969, as a teetotaller and a 10-year partner in the exclusive Double Bay menswear Squire Shop, he came to the Hunter in a syndicate of 20 Sydney business and professional men that bought the remnants of the Wilkinson family’s historic Oakdale vineyard and winery in De Beyers Rd, reviving the vines and launching the Audrey Wilkinson brand.
Enchanted by the wine country, Murray quit the Oakdale group in 1971 and he and his Squire Shop partners bought land in Mount View Rd, Mount View. There Murray built a guest cottage and, deciding it would be nice to see vines, in 1972 began planting a vineyard.
Initially called Squire Vineyard, it had its inaugural vintage in 1975 and promptly won a Brisbane Wine Show chardonnay gold medal. Totally hooked on wine, Murray sold out of the Squire Shop, took ownership of Mount View – renaming it Murray Robson Wines and making it synonymous with prized, hand-made wines of immaculate quality.
Heartache, however, hit with receivership in 1987 and the vineyard and winery were renamed Briar Ridge and bought by geologist-turned-vigneron Dr John Davis.
Ousted from Mount View, Murray in 1990 re-established Murray Robson Wines at Halls Rd and Oakdale-Audrey Wilkinson, taking former chairman of the Fairfax media group, James Fairfax, as an equity partner.In 1994 Murray sold his stake to James Fairfax, keeping ownership of his brand and preparing its third incarnation by buying eight hectares of Old North Rd, Rothbury, land. There he and wife Lynley built a home, winery and vineyard and in 1997 relaunched Murray Robson wines. The property was sold in 2000, but Murray was kept busy with wine exports, judging at the 2005-2006 North West Wine Summit in Atlanta and advising on the Peppertree vineyard upgrade.
Just before his death he was planning an on-line wine venture called Robson Store House.