Hickinbotham of Dromana: a short history

Learn more about the people behind one of the region's best known wineries

By Ian Hickinbotham

November 04th, 2010


Prominent English wine writer, Andrew Jefford - who has just completed a year as writer in residence at Adelaide University – recently proclaimed that chardonnay wines are Australia’s best. It is reasonable to immediately think ‘Mornington Peninsula’ in this context, such are the excellent examples of chardonnay made there.

Not many Australian winegrowers have had the experience of making a million litres of French wine. However that's what Andrew Hickinbotham did after his stint at Dijon University, Burgundy, where studying viticulture (with special emphasis on pinot noir and chardonnay) was his passion.

This knowledge formed the background of why the Hickinbotham family company chose not to purchase the Geelong winery and vineyard they had previously leased for five years, where his late brother, Stephen, who graduated from Bordeaux University, made extraordinary wines.  

The grapes there were excellent (a cabernet sauvignon was the first Australian wine to be chosen for First Class on British Airways), but the vines were planted well apart in the South Australian fashion, and they were miserable mainly due to lack of water; so grapes from different cool climate regions, like Ballarat, Maffra and even Tasmania were trialled.

The wines made from Mornington Peninsula grapes engendered most enthusiasm, reinforced by proximity to Melbourne, ease of access and density of the local population, but Andrew searched for two years before eventually purchasing the Dromana property in 1988.

Andrew met his partner Terryn at La Trobe University, during their studies for the same botany degree.  With inherent enthusiasm for chardonnay and pinot noir they established the first vine nursery on the peninsula.

With the few sticks of specific clones supplied by the CSIRO, they propagated quantities of vines of chardonnay and the newly arrived pinot noir, then planted them in the new vineyards they established like Stoniers and part of Paringa Estate.

In total they introduced pinot noir to twenty six virgin properties on the Mornignton Peninsula from 1987. On some they included pinot meunière (the variety historically known as Miller's Burgundy because of the 'flour dusted' appearance of the under-side of its leaves).

In 1995 Andrew and Terryn were finally able to build their own winery, intentionally sourcing pre-used material (once again being early trend thinkers).  The counter is from an old State Bank, the main frame was the Hampton High School Gymnasium, while ironwork was from the old Melbourne Steamship building and the glass doors from a Hoyts Theatre.  

Then a cafe was developed to provide food for their growing number of cellar door visitors, but the real fillip has been accompanying music leading to a packed winery most weekends.  Significantly, over that time they have raised more than $150,000 entirely for local organisations - mainly charities.

Both Andrew and Terryn have found that wine drinkers really like to talk to the winemakers, a draw-card often not available at large wineries. They now also make 'Hix' beers that are extremely popular, even with entrenched wine drinkers.  In fact, they have been so popular that a specific 'Beer Bar' has been opened in the nearby town, Rosebud.  

For added interest and variety for cellar door visitors, cider is made from apples and various liqueurs from fruits, while strawberries are used to make their famous 'Strawberry Kiss'. Again ahead of their time, vegetables served in the cafe are grown on the property.

Andrew has continued a family trait of inventiveness.  His 'Fermentabag' has been sold in three countries, including in ‘old Europe’.  Even more forward-looking was their enlightened ‘botanist’ approach: the harnessing of bacteria to break down the waste grape skins and stalks that are then returned to their vineyard as compost mulch, where it smothers emerging weeds.  

Because of their scientific approach to organic viticulture, Professor David Bellamy - famous English botanist and environmentalist who was jailed briefly in 1983 as a protester blockading the Australian Franklin River against the proposed dam - was a special speaker during his last Australian visit.

The whole Hickinbotham at Dromana facility is children friendly: an old wine vat has a face painted on it and the man-hole door is the entry 'mouth' - but the vat is now empty. Not so the bar, where you will be greeted with a warm and personal welcome, usually by the hospitable Andrew or Terryn themselves.


Ian Hickinbotham, one of the most innovative and influential oenologists in Australia over his 50 year career, is the author of Australian Plonky (see related review below).


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