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Schultz, Robert John (Jack) (1924–2007)

by David Dunstan

John Schultz, n.d.

John Schultz, n.d.

[Robert John] Jack Schultz, who was responsible for producing some of Australia's most memorable wines in a career spanning more than 40 years, has died aged 82.

Schultz, who rose to become chief winemaker at Mildara Wines, joined the company as a 15-year-old clerk in 1939. His service across five decades was interrupted only by four years of army service in World War II, when he was a signalman intercepting Japanese radio messages.

Schultz was born at Wonthaggi in Gippsland, and in 1938 moved with his family to a fruit block at Birdwood, part of the nearby Merbein irrigation settlement outside Mildura, which ironically was founded by George and William Chaffey and intended to attract industrious settlers imbued with temperance principles.

At the time he joined the Mildara winery, it employed about 20 people. He soon moved from clerical duties to the laboratory doing routine analysis, and in 1942 he was working on vintage wines at the original, historic Chaffey winery at Irymple, near Mildura.

But when he turned 18 that year, he joined the army, became a signalman and soon was more efficient at deciphering the Japanese Morse code than the English variant. This attention to detail and ability to concentrate contributed to his later winemaking success.

From 1943 Schultz served with the Australian Imperial Forces at Nadzab and Finschhafen in New Guinea, in Borneo, and was in Morotai at the end of the war, helping to intercept, break and interpret Japanese codes. On discharge in 1946 he returned to Mildara Wines at Merbein.

Unlike some ex-servicemen who went to South Australia's Roseworthy College to study winemaking, Schultz received no formal training. He had good teachers in the company's technical director Ron Haselgrove and winemaker Les Ekert.

The 1950s and '60s were formative years for the industry. The public's taste was for fortified wines, and Mildara port, sherries and brandy were market and quality leaders. Mildara sherries — including Chestnut Teal, Supreme and George — were among the best Australian wines of any type.

The region, with its "blocker" vineyards and warm dry summers, was ideal for sherry varieties. But the various styles of fortified wine - including the "nutty" dry styles of sherry produced through the gentle action of the flor yeast — required winemaking expertise and production facilities.

Haselgrove introduced a system of bulk fino sherry treatment in large concrete tanks with gabled roofs that encouraged rapid yeast growth.

Schultz further developed this method, making distinctive, world-class sherries in commercial quantities — and Mildara Wines set the national standard by which sherry and other fortified wines and brandies were judged. Schultz had an excellent palate, a good memory for wines and blends, and his technical skill and meticulous attention to detail were all factors in his company's success.

In 1963 Schultz was appointed winemaker at Mildara. Aware of the public's changing taste, he applied his skills to the production of table wine. Under Haselgrove, Mildara had bought land at Coonawarra in South Australia and was the first to apply modern methods of vineyard development there. Schultz's winemaking skills backed up this brave investment.

He took over Coonawarra in 1978 and became responsible for both Mildara sites. By the 1980s the sherry expert had become Mildara's "King of the Reds".

Schultz's wines were awarded many trophies, including the Royal Melbourne Show's Jimmy Watson Trophy in 1982 for a 1981 Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon and Eden Valley shiraz blend. Schultz, and fellow Mildara winemaker Tony Murphy, now of Trentham Estate, worked on this blend. Schultz can also take credit for the 1984 Adelaide Montgomery Trophy winner for the best red wine of any age. He was proud of the Coonawarra 1979 cabernet sauvignon and 1981 cabernet merlot.

Schultz had a wry and endearing manner. He could convey a judgement on a wine to a colleague using few words or merely a facial expression. His advice for young winemakers was simple: "Those who are dedicated and apply themselves, and pay attention to detail, will get on and do very well."

In recognition of his contribution, a range of fortified wines was released in 1980 by Mildara Wines. All blended and selected by Schultz, they bore the mark "JS" - the mark of a master winemaker.

Schultz retired in 1987 to "chase fish and yabbies", but remained a consultant to the company, now reorganised as Mildara Blass. He will be remembered as a master craftsman and one of Australia's foremost winemakers in a period of great change and growth.

Schultz is survived by his wife, Joan, daughters Margaret, Barbara and Jenny, son David, and their families.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 March 2007

Citation details

David Dunstan, 'Schultz, Robert John (Jack) (1924–2007)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/schultz-robert-john-jack-15307/text26511, accessed 22 August 2018.

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