Preece, Colin Thomas (1903–1979)

by David Dunstan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Colin Thomas Preece (1903-1979), winemaker, was born on 5 May 1903 at Alberton, Adelaide, sixth of seven children of South Australian-born parents Thomas Henry Preece, miller, and his wife Elizabeth, née Stanners. Young Colin attended Unley High School and planned to manage the family's flour mill at Tumby Bay, but, after taking the optional subject of oenology at Roseworthy Agricultural College (dux 1923), joined the technical staff of B. Seppelt & Sons Ltd at the firm's winery in the Barossa Valley. He developed Seppelt's Extra Dry Solero sherry and learned the significance of liquid sulphur dioxide in making good wine. At St John's Lutheran Church, Tanunda, on 8 February 1928 he married Dorothea Rhoda Tümmel.

In 1932 Preece moved to Victoria as manager of Seppelt's vineyards and cellars at Great Western, near Ararat. Great Western had been successively owned by Joseph Best, Hans Irvine and Benno Seppelt. Relishing the role of master of the little community, he upheld the winery's traditions, maintained the underground cellar-storage 'drives' and continued the practice of naming wines after prominent individuals, including the State governors Baron Huntingfield in 1934 and Sir Dallas Brooks in 1950, both of whom he entertained. In 1941-61 a continuous programme of expansion was required to keep pace with the rising demand for Great Western wines, especially the sparkling varieties.

The nearby St Ethels and Hockheim properties were acquired in 1945. New buildings were constructed, 340 acres (138 ha) of additional vineyards planted and 80 acres (32 ha) replanted. By 1961 the total area under grapes was more than 600 acres (243 ha). Great Western champagne and sparkling burgundy were long established lines. In 1953-55 Seppelt released Moyston claret, Chalambar burgundy, Arawatta riesling and Rhymney chablis—all new wines named after localities in the district. Sparkling wines from Great Western dominated Australian wine shows and won international awards. These wines, with individual special releases and even wines sold in bulk to merchants, made Preece's reputation.

Ranked with Maurice O'Shea and Roger Warren as a great Australian winemaker, Preece influenced wine enthusiasts, makers and professionals. In sparkling wine he had no peer. Like O'Shea and Warren, he was an accomplished technician and a masterful blender. Again like them, he enjoyed the full backing of his company and drew on the skills of others. He was supported in the sparkling and table wine cellars by Harold Carr and Leo Hurley respectively.

Preece was of less than average height, with a round face and spectacles. An amiable man and a wine educator, he was a gregarious and generous host who welcomed visitors with treasures from his cellars. He was also a mainstay of the Ararat Wine and Food Society and president (1933-63) of the Great Western Race Club, whose annual meeting the company supported. In 1963 he retired on the grounds of ill health, but remained in the district and undertook consultancy work. His clients included Nathan & Wyeth Pty Ltd, which had a vineyard near Avoca, and Ross Shelmerdine, whom he assisted with his wine and tourism venture, Mitchelton, near Nagambie. Preece died on 7 December 1979 at Ararat and was buried in Great Western cemetery; his wife, and their son and daughter survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • L. R. Francis, 100 Years of Wine Making (np, 1965)
  • Age (Melbourne), 1 Jan 1980
  • D. Seabrook, oration at Colin Preece commemoration banquet, 1981 (manuscript, privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

David Dunstan, 'Preece, Colin Thomas (1903–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/preece-colin-thomas-11452/text20413, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 29 June 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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