The creator of Grange Hermitage, Max Schubert, died last Sunday.
Max was a genius whose medium happened to be wine. His achievements and contribution to our cultural life are enduring and go far beyond the wines he made.
Like Patrick White and Sydney Nolan, Schubert’s genius blossomed in the early 1950s despite a post-world-war-two Australian culture that could hardly have been more hostile to originality and unconventional ways.
The seed of genius was always there waiting to bud. Despite childhood poverty and little formal education, Max saw a future for himself:
“I was very keen to do something that would allow me to fulfil fantasies that I had always had… I always had a terrible imagination and I used to imagine myself as being really somebody. I always had this in front of me. I wanted to get out of the rut we were in. We were poor and I wanted to make a name for myself. I always was somebody of note in my own mind.” (David Farmer-Chris Shanahan interview with Max in his office at Magill, February 18, 1992).
Max was born on February 9, 1915 :
“I was born in a small country place called Moculta (Barossa Valley). It was a village and it was originally peopled by a German farming community…
“My early recollections were living in a cottage which also belonged to… the Linke brothers (his mother’s family) and I remember these homes were built of mud and straw… and some of them including ours had a thatched roof of straw. I don’t know whether you can visualise this, but I chiefly remember also the large kitchen at my Grandfather’s place where they cooked meals for all these people, the tradesmen they had in and the wonderful smell of curing bacon, ham and German-style sausages when you walked into the kitchen there. Also this was mixed with coffee. There was all this coffee on the great wooden stoves they had there and although I was only two or three years old, it’s quite a vivid memory for me up there. Wonderful smell of bacon. Every cottage and… they used to have to kill their own meat and every cottage in fact had a smoke house for maturing bacon and German-type Bratwurst and that sort of thing. And I remember it used to be used also as place of discipline for unruly children And many times I found myself in the damn smokehouse – was a terrible ordeal really.
“… they were persecuted Lutherans, you know all the original families and they established this community. There were many of them around you know like this. These German communities. There was no state school and they had to provide their own education and my mother and father were both educators in these community schools and my elder two brothers went to the German Schools for a little while until we moved to Nuriootpa. That was when I was about four years old.
“…Well, I went to the local primary school and I eventually went to the high school and I finished with an Intermediate Certificate… it was something to have an Intermediate Certificate in those days because students left school, some went until they were twelve years of age – fourteen was the maximum. The depression – everybody had to try and earn some money. I know I did. Worked for the local greengrocer also who grew his own vegetables. I used to pull the carrots, wash them and bunch them up. All after school… nobody had any money.
Max left school at 15 and got his first full-time job (7 am until 5 pm) doing odd jobs at Penfolds, Nuriootpa.
“Well I had this fetch and carry job for about six months and then they appointed the first wine chemist as you called them in those days up there and and that was because they had no option. They still believed in the old traditional methods. They were forced to put some science into the operation because so much bacteria affected the wines and they didn’t know how to control it.”
Such was Max Schubert’s introduction to wine making. From odd-jobs boy he was taken under the wing of Penfold’s first ‘wine chemist’.
Little could Herr Farsch know the destiny of his protege. Max went on to head the Penfold wine making team after a much-hated stint with the 6th Division during Word War II.
Max himself has eloquently related the development and controversy surrounding Grange in a paper delivered to a Symposium at the Australian National University in 1979.
Max’s reputation was already established in Australia by then. But the international story was yet to unfold. And the depth of his genius had not yet become widely appreciated.