Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Wynn, David (1915–1995)

by Charles Gent

This article was published online in 2019

David Wynn (1915–1995), winemaker, was born on 21 January 1915 in Melbourne, eldest of three children of Polish Jewish immigrants Samuel Wynn (formerly Shlomo ben David Weintraub), factory worker and later cellarman, and his wife Eva (Chava), née Silman. During the 1920s and 1930s David’s father was a highly successful wine merchant, distributor, and restaurateur. Although based in Melbourne, the business of S. Wynn & Co. acquired substantial South Australian interests.

David lived with his family above their Bourke Street wine saloon. After completing his schooling at Wesley College, he studied bacteriology and accountancy at the University of Adelaide, but did not take a degree. In 1932 and 1933 he learned winemaking and blending at Romalo cellars at Magill in Adelaide’s foothills. He rose to a managerial role in the family business, which expanded to encompass wine exporting to Britain, India, and the Pacific Islands. On 25 September 1937 at the Presbyterian Manse, South Melbourne, he married American-born Thelma Chapman; a son and a daughter were born before the couple separated.

Restrictions on shipping during World War II led to a contraction of the company’s export business. On 2 May 1942 Wynn enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force. Having trained as a fitter at No. 1 Engineering School, Ascot Vale, he joined the school’s staff in December. He was promoted to acting sergeant in December 1944. Granted several months compassionate and occupational leave because of his father’s ill health, he was discharged at his own request on 26 July 1945. With Samuel and his second wife Ida increasingly preoccupied with the Zionist cause, David took control of the business. He expanded the company's winegrowing and production capacity, establishing a large vineyard at Modbury on Adelaide's north-eastern fringe in 1947, and buying a winery and vines in New South Wales at Yenda, near Griffith, in 1959.

In 1951 Wynn had purchased the vineyards of the defunct Chateau Comaum at the former Coonawarra Fruit Colony in South Australia's south-east. Convinced of the region’s potential, his decision ignored not only his father’s reservations, but also a report he himself had commissioned that noted management and climate difficulties of winegrowing in the Coonawarra. In the following years, initially under the winemaker and viticulturist Ian Hickinbotham, production of high-quality cabernet sauvignon and shiraz was achieved. David's energetic promotion of Wynn's Coonawarra Estate included wine labels that featured a striking Richard Beck woodcut of the winery's historic triple gables, as well as advertising campaigns in concert programs and literary magazines. His success in establishing the Coonawarra's reputation as a source of premium red table wine prompted other producers, including Mildara, Penfolds, Orlando, and McWilliams, to buy into the region.

Wynn was a keen innovator; his Modbury vineyards were the first in the country to use contour-planting to conserve water. In 1958 he introduced the refillable, distinctively ribbed half-gallon (2.25 l) Wynvale flagon. A commercial success, it was marketed under the slogan: ‘The luxury of wine at little expense.’ He later took up the abandoned prototype of the soft-pack wine container, improving its tap mechanism and lining before launching it in 1971. The popularity of Wynn’s winecask and the invention's subsequent adoption by other companies helped to increase substantially the consumption of table wine in Australia.

Publicly listed in 1970 as Wynn Winegrowers Ltd, the business was sold to Allied Breweries Ltd and Tooheys Ltd for $7.5 million in 1972. David left the company to champion the cultivation of chardonnay. He established Mountadam winery (named for his second son) at Eden Valley, on an elevated site he had chosen in 1968 with the aid of an altimeter fitted to his Citroën. A critic of the 1980s trend towards heavily wooded chardonnay, he became a vocal exponent of unoaked styles of both white and red wine. The wine writer James Halliday dubbed him a marketing genius, while Dan Murphy, the wine seller and Age columnist, predicted that his ‘revolutionary ideas’ would ‘ultimately affect the whole industry’ (Gent 2003, 283).

In 1963 Wynn had married English-born Patricia Grace Bunbury (née Gosling). A talented amateur woodcarver, he was also an avid art collector and a music lover. As an early supporter and board member of the Adelaide Festival of Arts, he hosted parties for guest performers and touring companies. He chaired the Adelaide Festival Centre Trust (1975–80) and the Australian Dance Theatre (1975–77). Having served on the interim council, he was a council member of the Australian National Gallery (1976–81). In 1990, with John Russell, he was founder-director of the Barossa Music Festival. The next year he became a founding member of the Australian Republican Movement. He was appointed AO in 1989 and presented with the Australian wine industry's highest honour, the Maurice O'Shea award, in 1993.

Wynn was slight of physique, self-effacing, and quietly spoken yet sociable, and by nature a perfectionist and original thinker. Following his sudden death at Mountadam on 18 February 1995, he was lauded as a visionary who played a crucial role in popularising table wine. He was survived by his wife, their daughter and son, and the daughter from his first marriage. His ashes were scattered on the property and a memorial service was held in April, during that year’s vintage.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Gent, Charles. Mixed Dozen: The Story of Australian Winemaking since 1788. Sydney: Duffy and Snellgrove, 2003
  • Halliday, James. A History of the Australian Wine Industry 1949–1994. Adelaide: Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation with Winetitles, 1994
  • Halliday, James. Coonawarra: The History, the Vignerons, and the Wine. Sydney: Yenisey, 1983
  • Halliday, James. More Vintage Halliday. North Ryde, NSW: Angus & Robertson, 1990
  • Hooke, Huon. Words on Wine. Sydney: Sydney Morning Herald Books, 1997
  • Thomas, Daniel. ‘David Wynn: Art and Wine and Music.’ In Wine Australia Yearbook 1996, edited by Nigel Austin, 54–63. Port Melbourne: William Heinemann, 1996

Additional Resources

Citation details

Charles Gent, 'Wynn, David (1915–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wynn-david-27816/text35563, published online 2019, accessed online 6 December 2019.

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