At just 18 years old, the ambitious John Francis Brown, with financial assistance from his father, planted a 10 acre vineyard in Milawa, Victoria, near the base of the Victorian Alps, and produced his first vintage in 1889. Within a few short years he had bought his father out and named the company 'Brown Brothers', in the misplaced hope that his siblings would join him in the business.
Despite tough times, with a bank crash and depression across Victoria in the early 1890s, and the vine louse Phylloxera decimating the wine industry in the mid 1890s, John determinedly forged ahead. In 1898 he built a new cellar and winery, added a pot still and began to make fortified wines, which were enormously successful.
In 1916, the vineyard finally fell to Phylloxera, and after a suggestion from State Government Viticulturalist, Francois De Castella, John ripped up all 35 acres of vines and replanted on an unaffected part of the property on the Phylloxera-resistant American root stock. Not only did this save his family company, but it also sparked his fascination with varietal wines.
His only son, John Charles, joined the company in 1934. At that time Brown Brothers supplemented wine with lamb and cereal crops, but John Charles began to experiment with unusual varietals and over time, the lamb and crops were replaced with new plantings. John Charles was also the first to use refrigeration during fermentation, and the first Australian to make a Botrytis Riesling. His innovations won him an A.M. in 1989.
The third and fourth generations of the family are as much a part of the family business as ever. Brown Brothers now have their own wholesale business, and have purchased wineries in Tasmania as well as across Victoria. They now produce over 45 different wines, including fortified and sparkling wines, and have the busiest cellar door in Australia. Third generation patriarch John Graham Brown continues to build on the legacy of his forefathers, and help those following in his footsteps to do the same.