Thursday, January 17, 2008

Tragedy in the Hunter Valley

A large explosion at Drayton Family Wines has killed two people and severely injured a third. Among those killed was Trevor Drayton, a fifth generation member of the Drayton family and winemaker for the family owned winery. The second person killed may be a grapegrower cousin of Drayton (identity has not been released). Assistant winemaker 27 year old William Rikard-Bell is in critical condition after severe burns to 80 percent of his body. Apparently Rikard-Bell had the presence of mind to run 100 yards to a small dam and immerse himself in the water.

The explosion produced a huge fireball that blew off the roof of the winery and burnt areas 50 meters away. The bodies of the two dead have not yet been removed from the site due to the instability of the structures following the blast and fire. The explosion is believed to have been caused by sparks from a welding machine igniting fumes from stored ethanol.

The Drayton family has had a history of tragedy. Half the family was lost to typhus during the trip to Australia in the 1850s. In 1994 his uncle, the retired winemaker Reg Drayton, and his wife Pam died in a plane crash on their way from Williamtown to Lord Howe Island. Their bodies were never recovered. Seven years earlier winemaker Barry Drayton was suffocated by fumes when cleaning out a wine tank. And Barry Drayton’s wife Rhonda unexpectedly died shortly before from hepatitis and their deaths orphaned four young daughters.

Drayton’s established their presence in the Hunter Valley in the 1850s, and have been grape growers and wine makers since that time. I have never seen any Drayton Family wines in North America, although the description from James Halliday’s online Wine Companion indicates that they do export to the USA. Production is 90,000 cases of typical Hunter wines. I remember drinking Drayton wines back in the "70s, but that would have been before Trevor Drayton was even through wine school. Trevor Drayton graduated as Dux of his Oenology course at Roseworthy Agricultural Training College in South Australia and was also the current President of the Hunter Valley Vineyard Association.

Audio Slideshow at Sydney Morning Herald.

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