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Lamb, Douglas Lingen (1915–1997)

by Julie McIntyre

This article was published online in 2021

Douglas Lingen Lamb (1915–1997), wine merchant and educator, was born on 14 October 1915 at Double Bay, Sydney, younger child and only son of locally born parents Edward Alick (Tom) Lamb, clerk, and his wife Florence Ethelreda, née Lingen. Douglas was educated at Tudor House, Moss Vale, and The King’s School, Parramatta (1929–35). Elected school captain from mid-1934 to the end of 1935, he was awarded the John Dallas Futter scholarship (1934, 1935) and the Burkitt shield for the boy who most helped the school (1934). He won the mile championship and five-mile cross country championship cups in 1934 and captained rugby and rowing in his final year. After high school he travelled to England to study law at Jesus College, Cambridge (BA, 1938; MA, 1943), where he won a Blue for rowing.

Returning to Australia in 1939, Lamb worked as a solicitor’s clerk and continued studying law. On 19 August 1940 he was mobilised for service in the Citizen Military Forces in World War II, and was posted to the 14th Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery. In May 1941 he was commissioned as a lieutenant and transferred the 18th Field Regiment, which deployed to Western Australia in 1942. On 3 March 1942 he married Sydney-born Emma Mary (Molly) Brearley in a society wedding at St Mark’s Church of England, Darling Point. Molly, an arts graduate from the University of Sydney, worked for a short time in radio plays and otherwise carried out home duties. Having volunteered, Lamb was seconded to the Australian Imperial Force in July, serving in the 18th Field Regiment. Promoted to captain in April 1943, he served in Darwin with the 5th Australian Movement Control Group from May 1944 to March 1945. He was demobilised in Sydney on 19 December 1945 and transferred to the Reserve of Officers.

Lamb’s love affair with wine had begun during his student years in England with the purchase of a work about wine by E. J. Foote. In 1936 he became a member of the London Wine and Food Society established by the esteemed wine writer André L. Simon. A family connection in France led to regular visits there from 1939, which allowed him to refine his palate and develop his knowledge of wine. After the war he was called to the English Bar by proxy in 1946. He did not practise as a barrister, however. In Sydney he worked as a legal officer for Hoyts Theatres Ltd until 1951, when he purchased a moribund liquor licence to establish a wine and spirits importation, bottling, and distribution business. Douglas L. Lamb Pty Ltd operated first in Pitt Street, and then Sussex Street, Sydney.

The company imported quality wines and spirits from Europe and Britain. Lamb’s innovations included phone as well as mail orders. At a time when wine in Australia meant fortified port and sherry styles—and Australians drank much more beer than wine—Lamb generated interest in wine with guided tastings and attendance at social events and restaurants. According to the wine writer Huon Hooke, Lamb often said he had retired in the 1950s when he left his law career to spend his time enjoying wine with friends.

From 1952 to 1959 Lamb served as wine director on the board of Penfold’s Wines Pty Ltd. He is renowned for backing the vision of the chief winemaker, Max Schubert, for Penfold’s Grange Hermitage, the multi-vineyard South Australian shiraz that became the nation’s best-known wine. Schubert began to make Grange in 1951; he intended this wine to age for fifteen to twenty years before drinking, in the style of classic, luxury-priced French reds. When the Penfold’s board ordered Schubert to halt this experiment, Schubert made it in secret, recruiting the support of Lamb and a Penfold family member. Lamb’s son, John, recalled his father’s story that at a decisive board meeting, after the Penfold’s chief executive had stated that the company could not afford to continue making Grange, Lamb invoked his latent skills as a barrister to retort ‘I put it to the board that Penfold’s cannot afford not to make this wine’ (Lamb, pers. comm.). This resulted in the vote in favour of Schubert’s wine.

While not himself making wine, Lamb sold recognised brands and labelled wine bought wholesale from producers. He used names of grape varietals on his labels, rather than adopting European wine names as had been the practice since the previous century. As well as cultivating the public’s appreciation of fine wine, he sought to democratise the drink that he approached with intellectual pleasure. His innovations in the distribution of bulk wine purchased from the Hunter Valley, New South Wales, and from South Australian regions included an unsuccessful ‘bag in a barrel’ before the inception of the more popular ‘bag in a box’ cardboard wine cask. He also unsuccessfully trialled tinned pre-mix soft drinks with spirits.

In 1973 cash-flow problems led to liquidation proceedings against Douglas L. Lamb Pty Ltd, which were formalised in 1974. Following the company’s sale, Lamb could not use his name for business for ten years. During this time he freelanced as a wine merchant and wrote on wine for the Sydney Morning Herald and Australian newspapers. From 1983 he re-established his importation and distribution business as Douglas Lamb Wines. As a wine educator he published two small, easy-to-read guides on major European wines, and conducted tours to French and Italian wine regions. For many years he also presided as a wine show judge in Australia and England.

White-haired, with a ready smile and gentlemanly manners, Lamb became a much-loved bon vivant of Sydney wine and food appreciation during the emergence of postwar cosmopolitan consumption. He swam daily and continued to work until his sudden death on 23 March 1997 at his home at Darling Point; he was cremated after a funeral at St Mark’s Anglican Church. Predeceased by his wife (d. 1970), he was survived by their son and daughter; his business continued to be managed by his family. Since 2003 the Douglas Lamb Perpetual trophy for the best varietal riesling has been awarded annually by the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales at the Royal Sydney Wine Show.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Hooke, Huon. ‘Farewell to a Wine Veteran.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 8 April 1997, 7
  • Hooke, Huon. Words on Wine. [Sydney]: Sydney Morning Herald Books, 1997
  • Lamb, John. Personal communication
  • McNicoll, D. D. ‘Chevalier of the Vineyards.’ Australian, 27 March 1997, 14
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, NX117638
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Douglas Lamb.’ 26 March 1997, 39

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Julie McIntyre, 'Lamb, Douglas Lingen (1915–1997)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/lamb-douglas-lingen-25365/text33765, published online 2021, accessed online 8 December 2022.

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