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Fornachon, John Charles Macleod (1905–1968)

by Valmai A. Hankel

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

John Charles Macleod Fornachon (1905-1968), wine microbiologist, was born on 28 December 1905 at Wayville, Adelaide, third son of Charles Louis Fernand Fornachon, a Swiss-born electrical engineer, and his second wife Elizabeth Macpherson, née Robertson. John was educated at Golden Grove Public School and the Collegiate School of St Peter. In 1922 he entered Roseworthy Agricultural College where he studied oenology and viticulture (Dip.Ag., 1925), subjects he later pursued at the University of Adelaide (B.Ag.Sc., 1934; M.Sc., 1943). At the request of the Wine Overseas Marketing Board (later Australian Wine Board), in 1934 the university began research into the diseases of wine and wine spoilage. As investigating officer, Fornachon began work in November under Professor (Sir) John Cleland. Next year the project was moved to the Waite Agricultural Research Institute at Urrbrae and was administered by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. Fornachon's facilities were sparse: 'an incubator, microscope, a few reagents and glassware, some bench space, and not much else'. At St Andrew's Anglican Church, Walkerville, on 9 August 1938 he married Barbara Frances Hamilton.

Awarded a C.S.I.R. studentship, that year Fornachon sailed with his wife for California, United States of America, where he undertook eleven months research before participating in an international wine congress in Germany. He was not to spend another study leave abroad until 1954. The findings of his first major research were published by the Australian Wine Board as Bacterial Spoilage of Fortified Wines (1943). A second edition (1969) contained a foreword by Bryce Rankine which described the book as 'a classic in oenological research' and 'of inestimable value to the Australian wine industry'.

In 1941 Fornachon had begun to examine flor yeasts. His work, released in biannual reports to winemakers, was funded by the Australian Wine Board and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, and culminated in Studies on the Sherry Flor (1953). The book helped to 'place Australian sherry on world standards' and is still the definitive study (a second edition appeared in 1972).

Fornachon next turned his skills to investigating malolactic fermentation, about which very little was known in 1957 when he published a paper on the subject. Like his other projects, this research had practical benefits for winemakers. In 1955 the Australian Wine Research Institute had been opened at Urrbrae, with Fornachon as director of research. He filled the position 'with distinction' until his death. These years were particularly busy ones for him. His commitments included wine judging throughout Australia (he was chairman of judges in Adelaide) and lecturing part time in wine microbiology at the University of Adelaide and at Roseworthy Agricultural College. In addition to publishing eighteen research papers in 1936-68, he wrote an account of the State's wine industry for the book, Introducing South Australia (1958); he also compiled the English-language section of a new edition of the Lexique Vitivinicole International for the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations in 1963. In that year he was Regent's lecturer at the University of California at Davis, gave a paper on malolactic fermentation to an international symposium in Bordeaux, France, and was a member of the Australian delegation to meetings of the committee of experts on wines and spirits of the Council of Europe.

Tall (6 ft 5 ins, 196 cm) and thin, with a craggy face, curly hair and glasses, Fornachon was a shy, quiet man with a ready sense of humour. He was a member (1951) of the American Society of Oenologists and president of the South Australian branch of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science. His colleagues were impressed by his scientific objectivity and intellectual honesty, his deeply inquiring mind, and his modesty. A practical scientist, he preferred laboratory research to paperwork at his desk. He died of myocardial infarction on 25 August 1968 in Royal Adelaide Hospital and was cremated; his wife, son and daughter survived him. The library at the Australian Wine Research Institute was named in his honour.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Grapegrower and Winemaker, no 239, Nov 1983
  • V. Hankel, 'John Charles Macleod Fornachon: a tribute', Australian Wine Research Institute Technical Review, no 55, Aug 1988, p 6, and for Fornachon's publications
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 27 Nov 1939, 26 Aug 1968
  • private information.

Citation details

Valmai A. Hankel, 'Fornachon, John Charles Macleod (1905–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fornachon-john-charles-macleod-10220/text18067, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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