OAM for winemaking pioneer

    Newham's John Ellis has been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in this year's King's Birthday Honours for his service to the winemaking industry. Photo: Jacqui Henshaw

    John Ellis is a true pioneer of winemaking in the Macedon Ranges.

    Arguably the first person in Australia to make a merlot, cabernet merlot, cool climate chardonnay and fumé blanc, he has also worked tirelessly to build up the food and wine tourism industry in the region, and indeed across the country.

    This, together with decades spent in numerous executive roles on industry bodies and as a national wine show judge, has now seen him awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in this year’s King’s Birthday Honours for his service to the industry.

    John graduated from Roseworthy College dux of his class and began his career in the Barossa Valley, going on to become the first winemaker at Rosemount Estate in NSW and later Tisdall Wines.

    “I was headhunted to set up Peter Tisdall’s operation in Echuca and that’s when I really started to understand the regions of Victoria and what grape varieties were suited,” he said.

    In 1982, John and his wife Ann established Hanging Rock Winery at Newham with a view to creating cool-climate sparkling wine.

    “We bought this place to grow grapes to make sparkling wine in particular, but there’s more to making wine than just making one thing, so we bought grapes from wherever we could, mostly from the Heathcote region, and made a range of table wines to complement the sparkling wine,” John said.

    “The sparkling wine also takes a long time so we didn’t release the first sparkling wine until 1992/3.”

    John has held executive positions on many regional and national industry associations, including the Macedon Ranges Vignerons Association, Macedon Regional Tourism Association, Victorian Food and Wine Tourism Council and Victorian Wine Industry Association – which was tasked with defining the state’s geographic indications for its various wine growing regions.

    “I was the executive officer at the time. The really tricky regions were initially the Macedon Ranges and the King Valley,” he told the Express.

    “Later I was given the task to help split Heathcote from the Bendigo region, which was the hardest of them all … it took a lot of negotiating.”

    John was also integral to the development of the annual Budburst Food and Wine Festival in the Macedon Ranges.

    “We tried to lead by example here as to the sort of thing that you could do to attract people to the region by attracting them to us first, so we invested heavily in that,” he said.

    “It’s a successful festival in that it draws people into the region for the weekend, and that’s what tourism is really about, it’s about staying for a while.”

    John’s son Rob is now chief winemaker at Hanging Rock and his daughter Ruth manages the business. He credits his wife and his children for much of his success.

    “I couldn’t have done it all without the help of my family, in particular my wife Ann, without her holding the fort at the winery, none of this would have been possible,” he said.

    “And when you have a life ambition, when you’re setting something like this up, that your kids might be involved … we’ve got both of them involved so we’re very pleased about that, it’s the most important outcome of them all.”