John Graham is the eldest son of John Charles and Patricia Brown and became the third generation of winemakers at Milawa. Joining the family business in 1958, John has held positions of winemaker, Chief Winemaker and Chief Executive Officer.
John joined the family business in 1958 after completing his education at Scotch College in Melbourne and married local school teacher, June Ellis in 1965. After the birth of his son, John Andrew, he assumed responsibility for winemaking in 1969 and completed a food technology course in the mid 1970’s, following the birth of Cynthia Louise, his second child.
Following in his father’s footsteps John’s innovations spanned not only experimentation with different grape varieties, but also the processes utilised in winemaking. As a result it was not long before new and improved machinery was appearing. A major landmark was the installation in 1962 of refrigeration at Milawa, permitting a range of winemaking techniques that were previously not viable. In 1963 hydraulic pressing was introduced and in 1977 cold sterile bottling techniques commenced.
In 1988 John Charles Brown felt ready to hand over the company management to John Jnr and at that time John relinquished his post of Chief Winemaker. However, one of his dreams was to construct a miniature, stand-alone winery in order to experiment with every aspect of winemaking. It was during the family’s centenary year in 1989 that his dream was realised. Affectionately dubbed the ‘Kindergarten’ winery this facility enables Brown Brothers winemakers to experiment with small batch ferments, to trial new grape varieties and wine styles as well as to conduct research on viticulture and winemaking practices. Many accolades have been paid to the company for the vision and innovation in investing in such a superb research facility.
Expansion was rapid in the 1970’s with a succession of excellent vintages, the installation of winemaking equipment including Potter fermenters and the establishment of the Hurdle Creek vineyard. Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s John sought many innovative directions to increase wine quality both through the vineyard (cool climate grapes) and the winemaking process.
Huge growth continued under John’s leadership throughout the 1990’s. Whilst developments in the vineyard and winery continued at a rapid pace, it was also a time of implementing management practices and structures to support and service the expanding company.
John’s interest in winemaking had been paramount for most of his formative years. He’d spent most of his youth, outside school, driving tractors in the vineyard, pumping wine, pressing grapes or washing vats and generally helping around the receival yard and in the winemaking process. It was no surprise therefore that he chose winemaking as his specialty.
Until April 2001 he held the position of Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) but decided to step down from the CEO position so that he could pursue other interests and allow his brother Ross the opportunity to take the position.
Although he was no longer involved in the day to day activities as CEO he continued to be actively involved in steering the company as Chairman of the Board until he stepped down from the role in favour of Non-Executive Chairman Sandy Clark in 2007.
Like his father and grandfather before him his passion for wine has not diminished – he relinquished his director’s role in October 2009 in favour of his son and continues to take an active role in local community affairs.