The history of McWilliam’s is one which has been built by many members of a single family. But as much as any other McWilliam, Don McWilliam’s contributions over his long and illustrious career were an instrumental part of developing and guiding the family company he holds so dearly.
He recently turned 80 years old and to celebrate this milestone, we thought it appropriate to detail his significant contributions to the company.
McWilliam’s Chairman Jeff McWilliam says that his Uncle played a pivotal role in the development of McWilliam’s as a company and its impact on the greater Australian wine industry.
Don McWilliam is an icon of the Australian wine industry. It’s only now that I can fully appreciate the significance of his contribution to our great family business.
Born in 1934, Don McWilliam is the great grandson of founder Samuel McWilliam, the grandson of J.J. McWilliam and the second eldest son of Keith and Ruby McWilliam. He was a fourth generation McWilliam’s winemaker, of which there are now six.
He joined McWilliam’s in 1951 after graduating from Sydney Grammar school, starting on the factory floor where his job was inserting corks and fitting capsules by hand.
Shortly after he completed his first vintage at Mount Pleasant with the legendary Maurice O’Shea in 1954.
Don remembers that the genius of O’Shea shone through right up until his death in 1956. He also remembers the difficulty of the work on the vineyards in those early years.
“The work was hard, as there was no electricity at Pokolbin until 1957 and the grapes had to be pressed and wine pumped by muscle power.”
Not long after, Don was appointed Director of McWilliam’s and over the next five decades he played a significant role in the development of McWilliam’s, the Hunter Valley region and the Australian wine industry as a whole.
During his career he was active on the boards of the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation, Australian Wine & Brandy Producers’ Association, the Australian Wine Board and the Winemakers’ Federation of Australia.
In 1990 Don introduced the prestigious McWilliam’s Maurice O’Shea Award, of which there is to be another installment later in 2014.
He was himself recognised for his contribution to the wine industry when he became a Patron of the Wine Industry in 1994 and in 1995 when he was given the NSW Wine Industry’s Graham Gregory Award.
In 2003 Don was again singled out and made a Member of the Order of Australia.
Don retired as McWilliam’s CEO in 1993, remaining chairman of directors for some years afterward.
He is now retired in Port Stephens with his wife Louise, where he has lived since 1998.
From the whole team at McWilliam’s, we wish Don a happy 80th birthday and thank him for a career of service to the company and the wine industry as a whole.