Australian Plonky – fifty years of winemaking in Australia

The autobiography of Ian Hickinbotham

By Robyn Lewis
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Australian Plonky by Ian Hickinbotham

Australian Plonky by Ian Hickinbotham [©Papinian Publishing]


If anyone has any doubt as to how far the Australian wine industry has progressed in the past five decades, they should read this book.

This is the autobiography of Ian Hickinbotham,  one of the most innovative and influential oenologists (wine makers) in Australia over his 50 year career, spanning the decades from the 1950's to the 2000's.

The word 'plonk' (meaning wine, or sometimes other forms of alcohol) is said to be a derivative of the French blanc, abbreviated from white wine (vin blanc) often drunk in French bars during World War I. Australian soldiers soon appropriated the word; according to Hickinbotham the expression 'he's a plonky' was quickly applied to any wine drinker.

Ian Hickinbotham was born in 1929, son of chemist and researcher Alan 'Hick' Hickinbotham and his wife Nell, and perhaps destined from birth to become a 'plonky'. He was an early graduate of Roseworthy Agricultural College just after World War II, in the days when - unlike today - few winemakers had any scientific training. This education and his father's legacy of scientific enquiry and innovation were to set the course of the rest of his life.

His career took him over much of South Australia, and later to the Hunter Valley, and included periods involved with the making of Penfolds Grange and Coonawarra Estate, but perhaps most significantly in the development of the company and the label that became the then-famous Kaiser Stuhl.

Ian was involved and/or instrumental in many significant innovations in Australian wine making, including the application of malo-lactic fermentation (in the days when lactic acid in wine was wrongly assumed to be a fault), the use of stainless steel in wine making equipment, and even the invention of the wine cask, or 'soft pack' as it is now becoming rather euphemistically known.

In the 70's Ian and his wife Jude left the world of wine-making, and opened and operated a famed restaurant in Toorak, Melbourne, named Gini's, where they saw wine more through the eyes (or palates) of  wine consumers,  who generally had far less wine knowledge than those of today. Ian began another career as a wine writer – again, somewhat before his time – writing regularly for Epicurean magazine and explaining the developing Australian wine scene to a public becoming hungry for such information. He began to write this book in 1998 – a decade in fruition.

The last two chapters are of considerable interest and insight: The future (of the Australian wine industry) and Industrial wine versus terroir. In whichever direction (or directions) Australian wine making may evolve, we can be sure that it is on the shoulders of people such as Ian Hickinbotham that our current crop of talented and well-trained wine makers stand.


Australian Plonky (sc, University of Adelaide Barr Smith Press, 2008)  can be purchased online at Papinian Publishing RRP A$39.95 (postage extra).



  • Mornington Peninsula (VIC)

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March 01st, 2008
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