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Brown Brothers Roger Brown

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Roger Brown
Roger Brown 1956 – 1990

Roger was the youngest son of John Charles and Patricia Brown. Roger became the master propagator and breeder of vines for Brown Brothers and was instrumental in providing vines to the fast-growing company vineyards. In 1985 Roger was diagnosed with a brain tumour. He underwent surgery which kept the tumour at bay for three years. Roger lost his battle on 14th August 1990.

Roger quickly developed remarkable skills. Unquestionably he was a mechanical genius; he could fix anything. As a teenager his big passion was motorbikes, taking them apart, putting them together again, discovering ways of adding just one extra yard of performance. His other passion was skiing and somehow the two skills seemed to go together. He was good both at bike riding and performing on the slopes.

With Brown Brothers expanding at a rapid rate, the Company needed new vines by the hundred thousand. Furthermore Brown Brothers was contemplating a new cool-climate vineyard at Whitlands and a large number of rootlings were needed for a special close planting operation. John Charles said vine grafting in Australia was becoming a lost art. Nobody had been planting extensive vineyards for a long time. In the North East grafted vines were necessary because of Phylloxera, but the techniques had been virtually lost. So here was an opportunity for Roger, he could learn how it was done.

As soon as he graduated from Scotch he worked in a Melbourne plant nursery. He spent a year there just learning simple nursery techniques – how to handle cuttings, how to pot, how to raise plants under glass. The following year he went to California and through the famous Viticultural faculty at Davis University he was recommended to a nursery which specialised in vine grafting.

Roger went through the same schooling as his brothers, Milawa Primary School, Wangaratta High, then boarding at Scotch College. John Charles was fortunate in his sons. Roger wanted to do nothing but work at the vineyard and there was a place for him.

This was 1975, the era of the wine boom in California, and there was an enormous demand for stock. Roger went to a nursery that was producing over a million vines a year. One of his jobs was to go all around the State collecting material for grafting. It was a marvellous way of studying the industry.

Roger left California and came home to set up his own propagation farm, preparing for new plantings at Milawa, Mystic Park and Whitlands. Eventually he reached an output of 100,000 vines a year. He went for bench grafting, that is, not putting vines in the ground but grafting artificially on benches in the workshop.

The idea, of course, was to use Phylloxera-resistant rootstock, American native vines that had a natural resistance to Phylloxera and other parasites. Roger chose varieties that were most suited to our climate and soil types.

Roger shifted most of his operations to Whitlands, which at the time was a Phylloxera-free area. He could produce vines that could go straight into the ground at the new vineyard, and there was the advantage that everything he created was coming from a Phylloxera-free zone. The Company even put in a rootstock planting at Mystic Park using material supplied by the CSIRO and Department of Agriculture, all done in anticipation that at any time the Phylloxera bug could appear. Roger made use of this at Whitlands.