Farewell to Pokolbin winemaker Don Francois, 88

GREATLY ADMIRED: Don Francois in his much-prized Broke Road, Pokolbin, vineyard.
GREATLY ADMIRED: Don Francois in his much-prized Broke Road, Pokolbin, vineyard.

DURING its 47-year history, Chateau Francois was one of the Hunter Valley's smallest and most-admired boutique wine ventures, but its final chapter has now come with the death of distinguished marine biologist-turned Pokolbin winemaker Don Francois.

Born and educated in America, Don first came to Australia in 1958 on a Fulbright scholarship to study yabbies, the freshwater crayfish that inhabit our waterways and dams.

He took to Hunter winemaking in 1969 when he paid $1000 for 24ha of bushland next to Tyrrell's in Broke Road, Pokolbin, and planted 2.4ha of vines on the grandly named Chateau Francois.

Resolving to keep the operation small, manageable by one man and limited to an annual output of 200 dozen bottles, he made his first vintage into wine in the laundry of his Chatswood home.

He later set up a homestead and a small winery at Chateau Francois, making semillon, shiraz and pinot noir that won critical acclaim and numerous show medals.

His later years were blighted by strokes that caused aphasia, hampering his ability to speak and write, but he battled on running his beloved vineyard and winery.

Despite the care and support of his wife, Dr Jana Francois Jones, he finally had to cease Chateau Francois production after the 2016 vintage.

His death on March 11 at the age of 88 is expected to lead to his vineyard being sold and the brand disappear.

For the time being, however, there are some small stocks of back-vintages in the Chateau Francois cellar.

Winemaking was just one of Don's many accomplishments.

In his youth he won a University of Ohio wrestling scholarship, was a champion pistol and rifle marksman and in 1954 he served as a military police officer in the US occupation forces in Germany.

For the earlier 28 years of his life Don made great contributions to fisheries.

His studies of New Jersey freshwater crayfish and Australia yabbies won him Cornell University Master of Science and a PhD, followed in 1962 by a return to Australia and a senior biologist's job with NSW Fisheries.

Aged 33 in 1965, Don became NSW Director of Fisheries and in this post set out to establish a NSW Atlantic salmon and ocean trout industry.

Ultimately, NSW waters proved too warm, but the disease-free fish raised from Nova Scotia eggs in the Snowy Mountains provided the breeding stock that launched in the early 1980s the now booming salmon farming industry in Tasmania.



FROM the scenic Tallavera vineyard, the Carillion 2018 Origins Fenestella Hunter Shiraz has14% alcohol, bright purple hues, potpourri scents and plush plum front-palate flavour. The middle shows mulberry, spice, briar and vanillin oak and a finish of minty tannins. At carillionwines.com.au and the Mount View Road, Mount View, cellar door.

PRICE: $60.

DRINK WITH: coq a vin

AGEING: 12 years.

RATING: 5 stars


THIS Tyrrell's 2016 Stevens Vineyard Semillon beguiles with green-tinted straw hues, jasmine and hay scents and crisp, pristine lemon front-palate flavour. Nashi pear, flint and honey and toast display on the middle palate and slatey acid refreshes at the finish. At the Broke Rd, Pokolbin, winery, tyrrells.com.au and fine wine stores.

PRICE: $40.

DRINK WITH: crab timbales.

AGEING: 10 years.

RATING: 5 stars


SHOWCASING Dan Binet's creativity, the Domaine de Binet 2019 Tempranillo-Graciano-Cabernet has 14.5% alcohol, ruby hues, quince jelly aromas and vibrant blackcurrant front-palate flavour. The middle has Morello cherry, licorice, mint and mocha oak and the finish dusty tannins. At binetfamilywines.com.au and the Lovedale Road, Lovedale, winery.

PRICE: $38.

DRINK WITH: tapas.

AGEING: six years.

RATING: 4.5 stars

This story Don Francois - Life on the land and water first appeared on Newcastle Herald.