Louis de Castella and Libby Murphy have been in Heathcote for six years. “We fell in love with Heathcote, especially the friendliness of the community, when we started to search for a location for Lou’s dream of making great wine,” says Libby.
Lou’s family has a long history in the wine business. Lou’s great-grandfather, Hubert de Castella, arrived in Australia in 1854 to join his brother Paul who had emigrated here in 1849. In 1862, Hubert established a vineyard, St Huberts, while Paul established Chateau Yering, both in the Yarra Valley. Their wines achieved great acclaim. In 1882, at the Universal Exhibition in Melbourne, Hubert won a trophy offered by the Emperor of Germany for ‘The Australian Exhibitor whose artistic and industrial progress is best displayed by the qualities of his product.’
Francois Robert de Castella, Lou’s grandfather, was born in 1867. When Francois arrived as a new boarder at Xavier College his luggage included a term’s supply of wine. Hubert insisted that the school allow Francois to have a glass of wine with his meal and the Headmaster eventually agreed to his request.
Francois studied natural science in Switzerland, and vine growing and winemaking in France.
He took over the running of St Huberts in 1886 for four years from the age of nineteen. In 1890, he was given a temporary appointment as Vine Expert for the Victorian Department of Agriculture. In 1890 he published his book ‘Handbook of Viticulture for Victoria.’ In 1907, he was appointed again as Viticulture Expert for the Department of Agriculture and served as Viticulture Commissioner in Europe and Africa. In 1937, the French Government conferred on him the Order of ‘Officier du Merite Agricole,’ in recognition of his service to Viticulture.
The main purpose of Francois’ European trip was to obtain information on the control of the phylloxera aphid which had become a major pest. He subsequently introduced the grafting of traditional varieties on to American rootstock. He also bought back the sherry ‘flor’ culture for making Sherry, apparently swiping it from the side of a vat with his handkerchief whilst in Spain!
Francois’ legacy includes: a plaque hanging at Tahbilk; the Francois de Castella trophy for ‘The Most Successful Exhibitor’at the Melbourne Wine Show; and his many books on viticulture. He eventually found the time to get married when he was fifty six years old. Rolet, the eldest of Francois’ three children, was Lou’s father. Rolet was a great wine lover but was not directly involved in wine production.
Lou grew up in Kew and he also went to Xavier College. “But I missed out on having wine with my dinner at school,” he says. “At home we were encouraged to drink wine with our meals. From the age of ten we had it mixed with water, but from teenage years on we were allowed a glass full strength. After school I sampled a few university subjects including economics and engineering, then I worked in the public service. But, I got bored so I started a gardening and handyman business which I developed over a couple of years.
“Then I set out on an adventure. The goal was to hitchhike from Melbourne to Perth. I had some exciting times on that trip, including a pick up from some burly guys who had apparently been spending time in prison. I took a train to Busselton from Perth and started my first vineyard job, pruning at Sandalford Wines. After four months I headed north and ended up helping out at a Pallotine Aboriginal Mission near Geraldton. Eventually I ended up in Broome, working with the aboriginal community for fifteen years. I met Libby in Broome and discovered that we had a lot in common. I’d been travelling around Australia while she had been exploring the world. We were soon married and living in Broome.”
Libby’s Dad was in the RAAF and she grew up in Laverton. “When I was nineteen years old I assisted at my sister’s home birth. I decided then that I wanted to be a midwife. After finishing midwifery, I went to India to visit an aunt, a Catholic nun, who had been in India for fifty years. She took me to many of the places in India where she had worked. One of those trips was to see the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. My aunt organised a private audience with him. His guards stressed that no photos were allowed but my aunt was not to be deterred. ‘Can my niece take a picture with you?’ she asked the Dalai Lama directly. So I have a photo where I am holding hands with the Dalai Lama.
“My visit to India was my first cross-cultural experience and I loved the challenges. I was a midwife in India for a while, and then travelled through Nepal, the UK and Europe. When I returned to Australia I moved to Alice Springs and found work at Ernabella and Pipalyatjara, on the WA, SA and NT border. I was so ignorant. I knew nothing of Aboriginal culture. I was not even aware they had their own languages.
“My next job was at Congress Alukura. It is a women’s health and birthing centre, developed in the 1980s, to address the concerns of Aboriginal women in Central Australia. I was there initially for a six-month contract which kept being renewed over two years. That was my dream job. It was an incredible learning curve. I developed personal, professional and political skills. It was also great clinical experience.
“After Alice I went to Broome. When I met Lou he was helping to manage the Bishop Raible Co-operative which was a combination of an op-shop, a social justice service and, rather surprisingly, the town funeral service,” says Libby. “I knew about all the births in town, and he knew about all the deaths.”
“Our daughter Holly was born in Broome,” says Lou. “When Libby was pregnant with our son Leo we decided to return to Melbourne to be closer to our families. We lived at Red Hill on the Mornington Peninsula. I worked at Red Hill Estate while studying viticulture and winemaking.”
Libby works as a midwife at the Kilmore Hospital, and is also Chairperson of Heathcote’s Neighbourhood House. She assists Louis in living his dream of making great wine. Their vineyard and straw bale cellar door is opposite the Pink Cliffs Geological Reserve entrance.
The Louis de Castella vineyard is a certified biodynamic vineyard and winery. “I was introduced to bio-dynamics by my brother Will. He has been operating Jean Pauls bio-dynamic vineyard in Yea since 1994. Bio-dynamics makes sense to me,” says Lou, “every living thing has a spirit behind it. Our approach adds a very rewarding dimension to what we do in the vineyard and the winery. It’s not just a process, it’s a complete system of agriculture that is sustainable, and produces highly-flavoured, high quality fruit. Bio-dynamics is about enhancing the soil, and the whole farm organism, as a living system. It is about having the appropriate tools to cope with any problems that arise.
“We have a small vineyard near our cellar door but we also source other grapes from which we make conventional wines. Many of our winemakers are adopting bio-dynamic principles and I’d like to see even more do so.”
Cellar Door at Pink Cliffs Cafe – opening hours
Lunch – Thursday to Sunday 11am – 3pm
Dinner – Friday and Saturday 6pm – 9pm