7 August 2023

Cheers to that! Wine tasting revived at iconic McWilliam's Hanwood Big Wine Barrel

| Oliver Jacques
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Bill Calabria at Big Wine Barrell

Bill Calabria is painting the Big Wine Barrel himself. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

The iconic Hanwood Big Wine Barrel – a giant-scaled replica of a wine barrel built into a cellar door – will reopen and offer wine tastings to the general public this Friday, 11 August.

The niche tourist attraction was built 50 years ago by the region’s oldest winery, McWilliam’s. It was closed before the company went into administration in 2020 but has now been resurrected by Calabria Family Wines, which has taken ownership of the McWilliam’s brand and its Hanwood vineyard.

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For the past 18 months, staff have been working around the clock to restore and refurbish Griffith’s answer to Woombye’s Big Pineapple in Queensland. Bill Calabria, the 75-year-old managing director, did much of the manual labour himself.

“I did the flooring, concreting, we put a new wall in and repainted the outside,” Bill said. “We are having a soft opening inviting some of the shareholders and people who helped us get this ready this week and then we’ll be open to the public on Friday.

“Hopefully, we’ve got it respectable enough to show the public something special.”

Handwood wine barrell from distance

Hanwood’s Big Wine Barrel is almost ready to open. Photo: McWilliam’s Wines.

Bill’s son Andrew, the sales and marketing director, has explained the significance of the occasion.

“What’s really important for us is that McWilliam’s is such an old, historic brand it needs a sense of place. Hanwood and the barrel is that … we want to be able to celebrate and tell the history of McWilliam’s – their foundation in 1877 and all they did to establish winemaking in the Riverina.”

The revived cellar door holds hundreds of barrels of wines, the oldest of which were made in 1862. Some are holding fortified wine more than 40 years old.

“The McWilliams were the first to plant vines in Griffith in 1913,” Bill said. “They set the example that it could be done. It led to other people coming to the region. My father started making wines because of them. It’s all because of the leadership that the McWilliam family provided … we want to keep the name and preserve its history.”

Bill Calabria painting

Bill Calabria did much of the manual labour himself. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

The news has been welcomed by the McWilliam family.

“I remember as a kid running around the lawn and climbing the majestic (now huge) tree,” sixth-generation winemaker Scott McWilliam posted on social media. “I love how the statue of JJ McWilliam, my great great grandfather has been showcased, and can’t wait to see the barrel all refurbished.”

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Customers could expect a more interactive experience at both the McWilliam’s and Calabria winery sites, Bill said.

“We don’t want customers just coming in, buying a bottle and then leaving. We want them to have the full experience, to be able to learn about the history, taste a few varieties and explore … people will get to taste some of the wines that were put away in the early 1980s.”

Wine tastings at the revived wine barrel at Jake McWilliam Road, Hanwood, can be booked online at the McWilliam’s website.

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