Scientists make better vignerons

October 8, 1999

A Melbourne University professor has found the perfect antidote to academic stress. When not running a hypertension unit at a city hospital or lecturing university students, Melbourne's physiology professor Trefor Morgan unwinds among the vines.

The owner of a two-hectre vineyard 45 minutes north of central Melbourne, Morgan is in first-rate academic company. Australia's former chief scientist John Stocker owns a six-hectre vineyard 120km northeast of Melbourne, while the Australian National University vice-chancellor, statistician Deane Terrell, is considering putting ten hectares of land near Canberra under vines when he retires next year. La Trobe University professor of biochemistry Nick Hoogenraad has a vineyard, as do numerous Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation scientists in Canberra.

"The Australian wine industry was pioneered by doctors such as Penfold and is now dominated by scientists and doctors," says Stocker. He is chairman of the Australian Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation and he sells most of his grapes to the Mitchelton Vineyard, though a few bottles of homemade wine are given to colleagues as gifts.

For Morgan, his vineyard and winery, which retails as Mount Charlie, make a great weekend and Wednesday retreat from the city. He runs the operation himself and first became involved in vine growing 15 years ago, some 20 years after encountering a university tutor who was one of the first to pioneer the Hunter Valley. "I liked the idea of doing something, growing something," he says, adding that as a clinician, he recommends one or two glasses of wine a day.

Stocker thinks scientists' personalities attract them to vineyard planting. "I can't think of any academic artists who make wine," he says. "Rather, I think it helps to be a scientist. Making quality wine demands an obsessive approach. People with such obsessive personalities tend to go towards medicine and science. It helps to pay attention to detail."

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