Providence Vineyards near Launceston, Tasmania was an original land grant to the Brooks family. Although it has had many owners in its time, it appears to have had only three uses: that of an apple orchard, carrying stock and a vineyard.
The land was transferred out of the Brooks name when, in 1939, Richard Brooks gave the land to his daughter, then Esther May Johnston “in consideration of his natural love and affection”.
Many owners, one property
The first wine name to appear as an owner of the property (although not known to be related) was that of William Johnston Penfold, when it was sold to him by Esther Johnston for the princely sum of three hundred and sixty pounds on 23 February 1944.
The property was subsequently sold
- to Ernest Smith on 22 December 1949 for nine hundred pounds;
- to George Herbert McCarthy on 14 June 1950 for one thousand one hundred pounds; and then
- to Henry William Thomas Taylor on 7 March 1956 for two thousand four hundred pounds.
The property was then leased to Jean and Cecile Miguet by Henry Taylor and eventually purchased by them on 14 May 1963 for two thousand three hundred pounds.
The current owner, Stuart Bryce, purchased the property in January 1980.
The Miguets arrive
Jean and Cecile Miguet arrived in Australia from France in about 1950.
Jean was a welder for Citra Fougerolle, a French company contracted to build the Trevallyn power station and dam for the Hydro Electric Commission. He worked in the Trevallyn tunnel, welding together sections that formed the water pipeline from the Trevallyn dam to the power station on the Tamar.
However, Jean, the son of a fifth generation winemaker from Provence, France brought with him the family’s traditional love of wine and winemaking and a dream of setting up a vineyard of his own.
Following an extensive search of Tasmania for a suitable piece of land to grow wine grapes, the Miguets settled on the land known now as Providence Vineyards.
Madame Miguet recollects with a chuckle their original investigation of the property. Whilst she was looking over the house Jean was moving around the property with his soil thermometer. He arrived at the house elated and announced that they would take the property.
Madame Miguet cried: “But Johnny, you haven’t seen the house yet!” Jean Miguet was so pleased with the potential of the property he did not need to see the house that was to be his home for the next twenty years.
The ‘wogs on the hill’
Since the failure of vineyards established in the early 1800s by Matthias Gaunt, Diego Bernacchi and others, Jean Miguet heralded the start of a reborn industry which in 2000 saw a total capital investment in Tasmania of over $55 million and 600 hectares of vines.
So then began what was to be known for forty years as La Provence.
The initial plantings, conducted in 1956, came from material that was illegally brought out from France and consisted of Pinot Noir, Chasselass, Chardonnay and Grenache. These vines, some 56 in number, were planted on the eastern side of the house in three north-south rows next to the property boundary.
Although the house has since gone (burnt down in July 1979), the path lined with pear trees still exists.
Once it became known that the Miguets were planting grapes for the production of alcohol there was some concern expressed by local sectarian groups and by individuals who resented change.
Their initial attempts were frustrated by a number of cruel events. Windbreak trees and vines were sprayed with weedicide and their goat was also poisoned. A number of letters in the newspaper reflected local concern regarding the production of alcohol and the Miguets became known as ‘the wogs on the hill’.
There’s wine but no-where to drink it
Notwithstanding all these setbacks the vineyard grew and Jean built a small winery, installing a basket press and wax-lined concrete tanks.
He made wine and they tended their small vineyard carefully, each winter removing the old bark by hand off each vine to deter insect pests. Their viticulture and winemaking was fastidious with individual attention for each vine and their equipment well maintained.
To clean their oak barrels, Madame Miguet would put boiling water and a piece of chain inside and then roll the barrels up and down the concrete path that led to their house.
As their small vineyard grew Jean then attempted to obtain a liquor license in order to be able to sell his wine. This led to further frustration, frustration which would not be resolved in his lifetime.
The Tasmanian state government had no formal vehicle that would allow a grape grower to make and sell his product. The only avenue open to Jean Miguet was to make the wine and sell it to a licensed wholesaler who would then onsell his product. This is not what Jean Miguet had envisaged.
His many attempts to get the government to change its legislation took the Miguets to Hobart. On one such visit, following yet another round of futile engagements with state politicians and bureaucrats, the Miguets were crossing the Tasman Bridge heading to their accommodation in the eastern suburbs.
They remarked on a loud crash, which turned out to be the freighter Lake Illawarra carrying away two spans of the Tasman Bridge behind them. They did not become aware of their narrow escape until the next day.
The Miguets leave and the Bryces arrive
In 1975 Jean Miguet was diagnosed with leukemia. They leased their vineyard to a consortium of three interested parties and returned to France where Jean died in 1976.
Madame Miguet returned to Tasmania after her husband’s death to live at Bridport. There were quite a number of people involved from time to time in partnership with Madame Miguet to produce wine. These included Graham von Bibra, Leigh Meyers, Bob Dornauf, Brian and Sandra Nicholls, Gavin Scott and Max Reynolds.
The vineyard was eventually sold to the Bryce family in 1980 by Max Reynolds thus discharging a mortgage still outstanding at that time to Cecile Miguet.
The original plantings by the Miguets have grown four-fold. The Cabernet Sauvignon, a very poor producer on this site, has been grafted over to Chardonnay and the Grenache was grubbed out and also replaced by Chardonnay.
In addition a new trellis system was added in 1988 when blocks of Semillon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were planted using the Carbonneau Open Lyre trellis system developed at the University of Bordeaux by Dr Alaine Carbonneau, the “Mr Viticulture” of the northern hemisphere. Whilst this system has produced excellent fruit, the management costs were not part of the original considerations when the trellis was first designed!
The total focus in Providence remains that of the Miguets: the production of premium wines and to this end the vineyard has collected a number of trophies and awards for its Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Semillon.
Oh! and that name change?
1986 was the first vintage of Chardonnay from Stuart and the second vintage in 1987, due to the small volume of Pinot Noir, it was combined with 1988 Pinot to produce the first blend. The 1989 Pinot came to the attention of a litigation lawyer in Melbourne who, after making contact with the French authorities, took action against the vineyard in the Federal Court for allegedly passing off wine as French.
Although it took two and a half years to resolve Stuart won the case and was exonerated. The French, or in fact as it turns out, the legal firm involved, paid costs. However, to avoid any further stressful legal proceedings against him, Stuart changed the name of the vineyard in 1994 to Providence, giving ‘Provence’ a new “id”, smack in the middle!