From convicts to champions

With a lineage reaching back to the start of the colony, Meerea Park celebrates 30 years of classic Hunter winemaking

Brothers Garth and Rhys Eather’s precious winemaking baby Meerea Park turns thirty this year. Another significant milestone on a timeline that stretches back to the 1790s. Over the last three decades, the wine-mad brothers have built a prestigious regional wine brand, continuing their family’s long history of pioneering entrepreneurship and contribution to the growth and development of the Hunter.

Alexander Munro is a good Scottish name indeed. Transported to the colony as a convict in 1831, the wily Scot was sent to work in Patrick’s Plains, Singleton Shire. Clearly an enterprising fellow, within five years he was a free man, buying up property and building fine houses on his way to becoming the first mayor of Singleton in 1866. Ardersier House, named after Munro’s Scottish birthplace, still stands in its original High Victorian state on Maitland Road in Singleton.

He was such a beloved and important local identity that, according to legend, the main street shops were closed as the whole town mourned his death in 1889. Alexander was also a wine man, at one stage the largest winemaker in New South Wales, having established the “Bebeah” vineyard in 1850. oreover, he was perhaps the most successful NSW winemaker of his time, winning over 2000 awards at wine shows around the world. His story line crosses that of the Eather family in 1910.

Thomas Eather and Elizabeth Lee were convicts on the 2nd and 3rd fleets. Their son Thomas made his way to Patrick’s Plains, establishing a 1000-acre farm at Bulga near Singleton in 1831. In 1910, his grandson Reginald Eather married Alexander Munro’s granddaughter Harriet Cousins, and the modern part of the story begins.

The Eather family farm Meerea, meaning “beautiful mountain” in the local language, was initially used for grazing, then citrus and grapes were planted in the 1940s. At the instigation of his son Rhys, who had wanted to become a winemaker since his early teens, Ian Eather grafted Chardonnay vines to existing table grape rootstock in 1989 and the future of the next generation was set. The Eather Brothers’ first vintage under the Meerea Park label was 1991.

Rhys continued to make wine for others until the late 1990s and Garth packed in his job as an electrical engineer to focus on the business side of their joint enterprise. The boys retained the brand name when the property was sold in 1995, sourcing fruit from some of the best-established vineyards across Pokolbin.

Read more in the Spring issue of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine orĀ subscribe here.

Story by Sally Evans, photography courtesy of Meerea Park