History of Providence Vineyard

Best Tasmanian wines.  Providence Vineyards near Launceston, Tasmania was an original land grant to the Brooks family around the commencement of World War 2.

The Miguets arrive

Jean Francois and Cecile Miguet arrived in Australia from France in 1951, sailing from Genoa near the France/Italian border.

Jean was a welder for Citra Fougerolle, a French company contracted to build the Trevallyn power station and dam for the Hydro Electric Commission. He worked in the Trevallyn tunnel, welding together sections that formed the water pipeline from the Trevallyn dam to the power station on the Tamar.

However, Jean, the son of a fifth generation winemaker from the famous grape growing regions in SE France brought with him the family’s traditional love of wine and winemaking.  He also brought with him a dream of establishing a vineyard with his wife and producing the best Tasmanian wines.

Following an extensive search of Tasmania for a suitable piece of land to grow wine grapes, the Miguets settled on the land known now as Providence Vineyards.

Madame Miguet recollects with a chuckle their original investigation of the property. Whilst she was looking over the house Jean (Johnny) was moving around the property with his soil thermometer. He arrived at the house elated and announced that they would take the property.

Madame Miguet cried: “But Johnny, you haven’t seen the house yet!” Jean Miguet was so pleased with the potential of the property he did not need to see the house that was to be his home for the next twenty years.

Jean Francois may not have realised at the time that this parcel of land was located on one of two very narrow ‘cigar shaped’ strips of the prized PERMIAN period geological formation & stratum that exist in Tasmania.  This is the same geological strata that is the foundation of many of the famed limestone based vineyards of his homeland’s Bourgogne (burgundy) where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrive and produce wines often lauded to rise from divine intervention.

The Miguet dream becomes a reality – just!

In the early 1800’s Matthias Gaunt, Diego Bernacchi and others established vineyards in Tasmania.  Those vineyards came and went.  In 1956 Jean Miguet heralded the start of a reborn industry which in 2000 saw a total capital investment in Tasmania of over $55 million and 600 hectares of vines and today is several thousand hectares and contributes around $60m to the state economy.

So in 1956 Jean Francois and Cecile Miguet began what was to be known for forty years as La Provence.

The initial plantings came from material that was illegally brought to Australia from France.  This material consisted of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and ‘trial varieties’ of Chasselas and Grenache. This collective of vine imports has affectionately become known as the ‘gumboot clones’ as they were imported inside immigrating vignerons ‘gumboots’.

The original plantings and steel trellis posts survive today and the steel not rusting due to the high pH or Alkaline soils.  The original plantings are located on the eastern side of the property in three north-south rows next to the eastern boundary and neighbouring gravel track.  This ‘mother block’ appears to have a number of selections (perhaps even clones) of Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir.  As the residing vigneron I have initiated a program to map the genomes of variants within each of these varieties.  These mother block vines clearly display different growing and grape bunch characteristics and so confirming their genetic sequence seems a natural progression to capturing another element of the contribution made to the Australian wine industry by two humble and passionate french immigrants with a dream.

These same plantings were also near the house that Cecile made their home.  Sadly the house and with it some of their history burnt down in July 1979.  However the concrete path that lead from the house to the winery remains and is still lined with pear trees Madame Miguet planted.  Cecile was a keen gardener and she also planted many daffodils and other bulb near the house.  The daffodils have also prospered and today provide a vivid cream and yellow display in the early spring.  The Block of Chardonnay planted beside this area of daffodils has been named the Madame Miguet Chardonnay due to her un-tiring efforts to tender the vines and maintain the oak the wines were aged in.

Once it became known that the Miguets were planting grapes for the production of alcohol there was some concern expressed by local sectarian groups and by individuals who resented change.

Their initial attempts were frustrated by a number of cruel events. Windbreak trees and vines were sprayed with herbicides and the family goat poisoned. A number of letters in the newspaper reflected local concern regarding the production of alcohol.  The Miguets remained stoic and committed to their dream despite also being labelled as ‘the w*gs on the hill’.

There’s wine but no-where to drink it

Notwithstanding all these setbacks the vineyard grew and Jean built a small winery, installing a basket press and wax-lined concrete tanks.

He made wine and they tended their small vineyard carefully, each winter removing the old bark by hand off each vine to deter insect pests. Their viticulture and winemaking was fastidious with individual attention for each vine and their equipment well maintained.

To clean their oak barrels Madame Miguet, a petite woman, would pour boiling water and a piece of chain inside and then roll the barrels up and down the concrete path that led to their house.

As their small vineyard grew Jean then attempted to obtain a liquor license in order to be able to sell his wine. This led to further frustration, frustration which would not be resolved in his lifetime.

The Tasmanian state government had no formal vehicle that would allow a grape grower to make and sell his product. The only avenue open to Jean Miguet was to make the wine and sell it to a licensed wholesaler who would then on-sell his product. This is not what Jean Miguet had envisaged.

His many attempts to get the government to change its legislation took the Miguets to Hobart. On one such visit, following yet another round of futile engagements with state politicians and bureaucrats, the Miguets were crossing the Tasman Bridge heading to their accommodation in the eastern suburbs.

They remarked on a loud crash, which turned out to be the freighter Lake Illawarra carrying away two spans of the Tasman Bridge behind them. They did not become aware of their narrow escape until the next day.

In 1975 Jean Miguet was tragically diagnosed with leukaemia. They leased their vineyard to a consortium of three interested parties and returned to France where Jean died in 1976, he is believed to be buried in one of the 4 main cemetery near Lac Annecy (Annecy) in Eastern France near the Italian border.  Due to Covid restrictions and once international travels are feasible I plan to continue the search for his tombstone.

Madame Miguet returned to Tasmania after her husband’s death and lived at Bridport. There were quite a number of people involved from time to time in partnership with Madame Miguet to produce wine. These included Graham von Bibra, Leigh Meyers, Bob Dornauf, Brian and Sandra Nicholls, Gavin Scott and Max Reynolds.

The Miguet dream lives on.

The vineyard was eventually sold to Stuart Bryce family in 1980 and so discharging a mortgage still outstanding at that time to Cecile Miguet.

The original plantings by the Miguets were increased four-fold by Stuart and family. Much of the Cabernet Sauvignon was grafted to Chardonnay whilst the Grenache and Chasselas were grubbed out and replaced by Chardonnay.

Stuart remained committed to the same dream as the Miguets with the Bryce stewardship spanning 39 years.  The family remained committed to the production of the best Tasmanian wines.  They engaged world renowned viticulturists and the man who became know as the father of Pinot Noir and founder of Heemskerk in Tasmania, Graham Wiltshire.  Between Stuart and Graham and more recently the deft winemaker Andrew Hood the vineyard collected a number of trophies and awards for its Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir.

So much can be said of Stuart’s continued innovations and contribution to the continuity of Providence and also that of the viability and growth of the Australian Wine Industry.  As the next chapter opens with my involvement at Providence I am truely grateful to frequently experience Stuart’s ongoing support and involvement.  The evolution of Providence including the return of winemaking to the site is not only continuity of the Miguet dream but also a reflection in the faith Stuart Bryce and family displayed over their 39 years of their ownership. 

Viticulture

Pinot Noir is currently 100% D5V12. We originally thought that some vines we purchased in 1985 were the clone MV6 but they were also D5V12! Chardonnay is I10V1 and Penfolds. The Riesling clone is unknown.

Trellising is a mixture of vertical shoot placement (VSP) and Carbonneau open lyre. Vine spacing in the VSP is 1.0 and 1.25 metres and row pacing is 1.5 metres. The open lyre spacing is 3.5 metres between rows and 1 metre between vines. Post angle is 22.5o.

Canopies are kept to a maximum thickness of 300 mm and bunch areas are progressively exposed at veraison. Cropping levels were hotly debated with Dr Richard Smart, the flying vine doctor.  That resulted in a series of thinning trials being set up by Richard and me at Tamar Ridge vineyard to determine whether or not thinning has any effect on the levels of fruit ripening.  The result surprised both of us, indicating that grapes ahead in ripening at veraison were not necessarily the ripest at vintage!

Whereas powdery mildew does remain a persistent problem (particularly in 2015!), bird egress has been solved with the laying of heavy used elevator cables down the sides of each block to secure the nets.  With total elimination of our avior friends the wasp problem has also been solved as, despite some views, wasps need grapes to be penetrated by another predator before they can feast.  Ironically, feral cats have stopped tearing the nets as there is now no reason for them to do so!

Oh! and that name change?

1986 was the first vintage of Chardonnay from Stuart and the second vintage in 1987, due to the small volume of Pinot Noir, it was combined with 1988 Pinot to produce the first blend.  The 1989 Pinot came to the attention of a litigation lawyer in Melbourne who, after making contact with the French authorities, took action against the vineyard in the Federal Court for allegedly passing off wine as French.

Although it took two and a half years to resolve Stuart won the case and was exonerated. The French, or in fact as it turns out, the legal firm involved, paid costs.  However, to avoid any further stressful legal proceedings against him, Stuart changed the name of the vineyard in 1994 to Providence, giving ‘Provence’ a new “id”, smack in the middle!

Although it has had many owners in its time, its value and contribution has been as grazing land, then an apple orchard and most recently (circa 1950’s) a vineyard.

The land was transferred out of the Brooks name when, in 1939, Richard Brooks gave the land to his daughter, then Esther May Johnston “in consideration of his natural love and affection”.

Many owners, one property

The Brooks family grant then changed hands to the first wine name to appear as an owner of the property (although not known to be related) was that of Penfold, specifically William Johnston Penfold.  The property was sold to him by Esther Johnston for the princely sum of three hundred and sixty pounds on 23 February 1944.

The property was subsequently sold

  • to Ernest Smith on 22 December 1949 for nine hundred pounds;
  • to George Herbert McCarthy on 14 June 1950 for one thousand one hundred pounds; and then
  • to Henry William Thomas Taylor on 7 March 1956 for two thousand four hundred pounds.

The property was then leased to Jean and Cecile Miguet by Henry Taylor and eventually purchased by them on 14 May 1963 for two thousand three hundred pounds.

Stuart Bryce purchased the property in January 1980 and then subsequently sold to the current owner and vigneron of 30+ years, Rusty Cook in December, 2018.