When Peter and Ruth Althaus finally decided to retire from their Domaine A property in Tasmania's Coal River Valley they found a ready buyer in the form of wine lover and entrepreneur, David Walsh.
It was early 2018 and the man from MONA knew exactly what lay ahead - a frenetic harvest. Walsh already owned the historic Moorilla site planted 60 years earlier by industry pioneer Claudio Alcorso. Vintage also beckoned at his St Matthias Vineyard in the Tamar Valley.
Among the first decisions Walsh made was to encourage Domaine A's former owner to maintain his connection with the Campania property.
"Peter helped make the 2018 wines of Domaine A and Stoney Vineyard," recalls Moorilla and Domaine A incumbent, Conor van der Reest.
Months later, Althaus made a long-haul flight from Europe back to his beloved Coal River Valley. Spending days together in mutual contemplation, the duo completed a rigorous schedule of tasting, assessing and blending.
"Domaine A and Stoney Vineyard are cornerstones of quality Tasmanian winemaking," says van der Reest.
"Although I knew a lot about Peter as a winemaker, I knew little of him personally before we began working together during ownership transition. I've been lucky to live and work in the wine industry all over the world but I can't think of anybody else who was as passionate as Peter was in all that he did.
"I admired him greatly for taking the chances he did during the past 30 years. The last time I saw him I was really looking forward to him coming back, of continuing our work as custodians of the iconic Domaine A brand."
Sadly, Althaus has tasted his last wines.
The 79-year-old died on January 2 from complications resulting from an accident sustained in his native Switzerland.
Ruth Althaus died in Switzerland in January 2019.
Last weekend's events brought to an untimely end an inspiring Tasmanian wine odyssey that first took flight in the late 1980s. Then approaching 50 years of age, Althaus was intent on retiring from his high-pressure job as an IBM executive in Zurich. His ambition was to turn his wine hobby into his wine profession.
Althaus had inherited his love of food and wine from his father, a baker and pastrycook. By his mid-20s, the young bloke was not only a qualified engineer but the founder of a Swiss wine-tasting association comprising 7000 members.
His role there provided the aficionado with ready access to some of Europe's most celebrated vineyards and wineries. As a highly skilled taster without professional qualification or industry connection, Althaus gained the confidence of many renowned vignerons and cellar masters.
Never short of a question, he was quick to develop skills and understanding that took many university-trained winemakers years of formal study to acquire.
When the lack of suitable affordable properties in Europe looked like stymieing their chances, the Althauses turned to prospects further afield. A chance meeting with Dr Andrew Pirie at a cool climate conference in New Zealand in 1988 prompted a fact-finding tour of Tasmania.
The couple visited potential vineyard sites and before returning to Zurich, they met George and Priscilla Park at Stoney Vineyard, outside Campania. The Parks poured numerous samples of wines produced from the 0.4ha site they planted 15 years earlier.
The Swiss couple liked what they tasted. They returned a year later on hearing the Parks had decided to sell. Before long, the Althauses were back in their homeland, preparing to move permanently to Stoney.
A wonderful 1990 Domaine A Cabernet Sauvignon was made on site while Althaus conducted his first Stoney Vineyard vintage on a tourist visa. The couple then returned to Zurich, leaving George Park in caretaker mode until the new owners returned with their goods and chattels in August 1990.
Success followed success in the ensuing years. By 1995, Althaus was creating Cabernet Sauvignon judged gold-medal quality at the prestigious London International Wine and Spirit Competition. Later came Lady A, described by esteemed author James Halliday as the finest wooded Sauvignon Blanc in the world. A plethora of top-notch Cabernet Sauvignon was met with a cherished Outstanding classification from Langton's fine wine auction house.
"The challenge for us now is not just to continue what Peter Althaus would have done," van der Reest explains.
"Our goal is to ensure the vineyard can fully express in its wines what Peter and Ruth saw in their special site all those years ago. It's a matter of maximising each wine's potential because the story behind them is really quite exceptional."
- Mark Smith wrote his first weekly Tasmanian wine column back in 1994. He continues to chart the successes of the state's small scale, cool climate wine industry with contributions to some of Australia's leading industry publications.