Vale Don Francois

James Halliday by James Halliday

19 Mar, 2021

James Halliday remembers Hunter Valley winemaker Don Francois.

I first met (Dr) Don Francois of Chateau Francois in the mid-1960s, not long after his arrival from Canada to become Director of NSW Fisheries. Our first meeting occurred in the laundry of his Chatswood house, which had a copper laundry tub. It was the first time I had seen a red wine ferment underway, using grapes from Sydney’s market precinct. His gaze was penetrating, and his opinions were made clear to friend and foe alike. My interest in meeting him came through the lens of wine, and he initially only knew of that. He was relatively small of stature, which may have helped him deal with those in the bureaucracy who challenged him.

In no time, he had purchased a sloping, sandy block running down from the very base of the Brokenback Range and off the beaten track. This was 1969, one year before Brokenwood was established. He proceeded to make beautiful semillon (the sandy loam perfect) and elegant shiraz, with some pinot noir often included. He specified 200 dozen bottles year after year, and all sold for the proverbial song. He laboured alone from dawn to dusk through much of his life, but he always attended local functions. He had aphasia, which robbed him of the ability to speak and understand clearly, and had suffered a number of strokes over the years. He didn’t let this deter him, but ultimately broken vertebrae and cancer led to his death on March 11, aged 88.

He was a great man, and his friends and family, particularly wife-cum-carer Jana Francois Jones, will miss him dearly.