Minchinbury, today a residential suburb in Sydney's Greater West, played a significant role in the development of the Australian winemaking industry. It was here that James Angus introduced modern winemaking technology to Australian at his Minchinbury Estate vineyard and winery. Angas was killed at Rooty Hill station by a train on 12th April 1916, four years after he sold his vineyard to Penfold's Wines. Penfolds Angus Brut is named in his honour. Minchinbury is located 39 kilometres west of the Sydney central business district.
Along the southern side of the Great Western Highway there are two notable landmarks. The original entrance to Penfolds Minchinbury Estate remains in the form of the masonry work on either side of the gate, at the top of the hill between Willis Street and Beaconsfield Road.
A facsimile of the original CAC Avon Sabre jet aircraft that had been installed at the entrance to the vinery in 1955 (with the accompanying sign "Don't Crash, Drink Penfolds") is mounted about 10 metres off the ground, in a nearly vertical manner, at the intersection of the Great Western Highway and Minchin Drive, adjacent to Minchinbury Reserve. The original plane, a genuine CAC Avon Sabre jet aircraft, was placed there by Penfolds in the 1930s when they acquired it from Cliff Carpenter, who built it but only flew it once. The plane was destroyed in a wind storm and replaced by a replica, which was destroyed by vandals. The current plane, made of plywood and tin, is a replica of the replica.
The name of Minchinbury recalls the first landowner, Irish born Captain William Minchin, who sailed for New South Wales as an ensign of the NSW Corps on the female convict transport Lady Shore, the only convict ship to mutiny. After being set adrift as a castaway by the mutineers and later reaching Brazil, Minchin made his way back in England where he was promptly reassigned to New South Wales. He was in fact on duty as guard of Government House when William Bligh was arrested in the Rum Rebellion. Minchin was not prosecuted for his part in the rebellion and was given the job of taking reports of the rebellion back to England. Later he rejoined his regiment and served in Canada until he retired in 1817. Governor Lachlan Macquarie granted Minchin 1000 acres, which he named Minchinbury, when he returned as a free settler aboard the Isabella in 1818. He and his wife established a farm and in a section of it Mrs. Minchin grew grapes from cuttings. After the death of William in 1821, the property passed to his only daughter Maria Matilda. In 1838, Maria Matilda and her family were lost at sea, leaving no descendents of William Minchin alive. The property was inherited by Minchin's brother, who lived in Canada.
Captain William Minchin's farm was bought by Dr. Charles McKay in 1859. McKay planted more vines on the property and built the original winery, establishing wine growing here as a commercial venture. Numerous small-scale vineyards scattered throughout the area sold their crops to McKay. Over the next two decades, Dr. McKay bought many neighbouring properties and in 1881, he put all of his land up for auction. At this time, the land did not sell and it wasn't until 1895 that James Angus bought all of McKay's properties.
A wealthy railway contractor, James Angus employed Leo Buring, one of Australia's leading wine makers at the time, to oversee operations. In 1912, Frank and Herbert Penfold of Penfold's Wines purchased the winery from Angus, who then retired. Most of the existing buildings at the winery were probably added while under the ownership of Penfolds. In 1898, during Angus' winemaking years, the vineyards suffered a viral disease that destroyed the vines. New vines were planted and grew until 1962 when soil erosion made them useless. New vineyards were established on other properties around the area to supply the fruit for the winery.
Minchinbury Winery Estate became famous for its champagne. Made in the traditional French methode champenoise way, Minchinbury bubbly was served to the Queen on her first visit to Australia. The winery continued to be expanded until 1962 when soil erosion and exhaustion from continued cropping led to the winding down of the venture. The winery continued operating, using grapes imported from other vineyards until July 1978 when the winery closed and its cellar operations were transferred to Tempe. Most of the original estate has now been turned into housing developments.
Whilst the arrangement for the release of the estate for re-development was that the core buildings of the winery, located today on the corner of Minchin and Barossa Drives, Minchinbury, would be restored and kept intact, no restoration took place, in fact considerable damage was done to the core site, partly by vandalism but also by the developer. The derelict buildings were badly damaged by fire on 13th April 1987. A year later, the Commonwealth Bank purchased the property and demolished Minchinbury House.
Redevelopment consent for the site was granted by Blacktown Council in 1995 conditional on restoration of the core of the winery. By March 2005, the lack of any restoration prompted the council to begin legal proceedings against the then developer. Since then some work has been done on stabilising the site. In 2007 a new developer submitted plans for the restoration of the remaint of the site, some 1.225 hectares, which included its conversion into an exhibition-conference centre, with shops, a cafe-gallery and a number of residential units. The winery buildings have now been restored and are cleverly incorporated into a modern residential complex of 10 new townhouses and 39 units. There is also a gym and pool built for the residents. Many of the old walls and structural aspects of the old buildings have been kept as a feature of the new design. An exhibition room showing off the site s industrial relics is a feature of a heritage walk which explains what each of the buildings was originally used for.
Minchinbury Row of Olive Trees: Two rows of kalamata olive trees, planted at the beginning of the Penfolds era of ownership of Minchinbury Winery Estate, have been preserved and now stand proudly in a reserve parallel to Minchin Drive behind houses on that street opposite the restored winery buildings. The grove of over 90 olive trees was planted in 1912 and lined the entry driveway from Gt. Western Highway to the winery. It is believed the olive trees were planted to produce olives used for the wine making process, a common practice among wine makers. The name Kalamata originates from the Kalamata region in Greece, which is famous for olive growing.
The suburb of Minchinbury and numerous streets in it recall the winery and the many pioneers of Australia's contemporary wine industry that were associated with it.