The vinous zeitgeist of 1950s Adelaide was limited to mainly a few dedicated wine industry people and a growing, but still small band of interested outsiders. Into this steadily expanding milieu strode a Titan who was to inculcate the Beefsteak and Burgundy movement with a strong culture of not just imbibing in fine wines, but of coming to grips with the very elements that make wine interesting and having some intellectual import. This man was the Adelaide B&B Club’s first Winemaster. His name, George Fairbrother.
George was a formidable man, sometimes irascible, sometimes intractable but always anxious to help others on their wine exploration journeys. In fact he was so well respected in wine circles that to this day the Royal Adelaide Wine Show still presents the George Fairbrother Trophy for the Most Outstanding White Wine in Show. Fairbrother was educated at Roseworthy Agricultural College from 1919 to 1921. From Roseworthy he went to Walter Reynell & Sons, hence some early visits by members to this winery. He moved from there to NSW where he worked as a wine and spirit merchant. On his return to S.A. he was employed for the next 24 years by Robert Bryce & Co. Pty. Ltd.
George’s wine judging began in 1946 at the Adelaide Wine Show. For the next 31 years he judged all over Australia and was widely regarded as a doyen of Australian wine judges and at the time was believed to have been the only person who had acted as Chairman at every major wine show. George Fairbrother’s palate was legendary and he proved himself over many years as a fine wine judge and one of the few capable of assessing the qualities of brandy. He retired from judging in 1977. After leaving Robert Bryce & Co. he remained in the industry as a wine broker and cork merchant.*
“The residual sugar would get this wine [ Henschke Dry Red from North Rhine Winery, Keyneton, via Eden Valley] into a difficulty as an exhibit in a show. But that does not matter two hoots – it is our palates that matter, and there is some shade of the sweet tooth about us all, which is one reason why we have liked this wine.” – [George Fairbrother, June 1957]. Ah sweetness, such a primal taste. This before we had ever heard of “terroir”.
George Fairbrother passed away in 1991. The Beefsteak and Burgundy movement and the Adelaide B&B Club, in particular, owe an immense debt to this man who was instrumental in not only imbuing it with a strong culture of wine understanding and appreciation, but in no small measure contributing to the ongoing excellence of the movement.
The Beefsteak and Burgundy Club Incorporated for a number of years was the presenter of a trophy at the Canberra Wine Show. It was about 1977/78 when this was discontinued [the 1996 Yalumba Octavious being the final recipient] . A trophy was offered to the Royal Adelaide Wine Show but there was no spot available. In 1997 the International President was current life member, Phil Kleinig. It is of interest to note in Phil’s President’s report he writes, “I think Past Presidents should say little and let the Club move forward. I hope in several years time we may look back and say the move to evening meetings was a great success.”
Planners of the 15th. B&B Convention banquet of which Phil wrote in glowing terms had the novel idea of a bottle of red wine for each guest with two labels: one, the wine list; the other, the menu. Maybe the organisers took their inspiration from the third birthday celebration of the Adelaide B&B Club in August 1957 where gift bottles of Spanish Sherry were given to members. Each bottle was topped with three tiny candles which flickered in the darkened room as the diners drank a Champagne toast to the Club.
By 1957 there were 16 affiliated Clubs including one in London. It is obvious that from a standing position in a mere 3 years B&B was becoming a dominant force in the wine and food fraternity. This was the year that the Chicken and Chablis Club began. It is noted in the press of the day that, “Now it is the fashion in Adelaide to belong to a wine and food club of some sort, even if you have to start your own.” This concurs with Geoff Nihill’s belief that nothing should be more frequent than an occasional drink, especially if it was made by Maurice O’Shea, Max Schubert, Peter Gago, Fred Bear et al….
A good enough reason to begin your own club in 1957 was the fact that a memorial gift of wines was made to honour legendary winemaker, Maurice O’Shea. This was given to 22 wine and food societies in SA which stemmed from Maurice’s keen interest in the work done by these societies. The gifts were three whites and three reds from the 1953 and 1954 vintage of the Mount Pleasant Winery. – [Advertiser, August 27th. 1957]. The B&B Clubs were all beneficiaries. Come on Mr. Penfold, take heed.
* Courtesy of the Royal Adelaide Show Catalogue of Results, 2016.
George Fairbrother is in the bottom row third from the left in the image above