28 July 2022

Bill Calabria to reopen Hanwood’s Big Wine Barrel

| Oliver Jacques
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Bill Calabria at Big Wine Barrell

Bill Calabria is painting the Big Wine Barrel himself, aiming to reopen it in October. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Nyngan has the Big Bogan. Woombye has the Big Pineapple. Now, Hanwood will have the Big Wine Barrel once again.

Region Riverina can reveal exclusively that Calabria Family Wines is refurbishing the iconic tourist attraction, with plans to reopen it as a cellar door offering wine tastings before the end of the year.

Incredibly, 74-year-old managing director Bill Calabria has donned his workwear and is doing much of the painting and repairs himself.

The Big Wine Barrel is a giant scaled replica of a wine barrel built into a cellar door, designed by McWilliam’s Wines – one of Australia’s oldest family wineries. The barrel was established in 1973, but was shut down before McWilliam’s Wines went into administration in January 2020.

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In April 2021, the Griffith-based Calabria family took ownership of the McWilliam’s brand and its Hanwood vineyard, allowing the famous name to live on. Now, they’re working furiously on resurrecting the rundown Big Wine Barrel.

“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,” says sales and marketing manager Andrew Calabria (Bill’s son).

“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.”

Wine Barrels at the McWilliams site.

Wine barrels at the McWilliam’s site. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Over the years, Bill Calabria has won a number of NSW Wine Awards, despite being allergic to alcohol and not drinking a drop of wine himself. He says if it wasn’t for McWilliam’s, it’s possible no other wineries would be in the Riverina.

“The McWilliams were the first to plant vines in Griffith in 1913. 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 McWilliam’s name and preserve its history.”

There are hundreds of barrels sitting at the McWilliam’s site, the oldest of which were made in 1862. Some are holding fortified wine more than 40 years old.

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“People will get to taste some of the wines that were put away in the early 1980s,” 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.”

Like the rest of the sector, Calabria Family Wines has struggled with labour shortages over the past three years, which has slowed its quest to properly revive the Hanwood site. A number of retiree shareholders have come in to volunteer their time to help out.

“It’s so hard to get workers, I’ve had to climb the ladder and do the painting myself,” Bill joked.

Bill Calabria painting

Bill at work on the refurbishment project. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

But with international borders opening up, the winery is back on track.

“We’re going to be working really hard, but if all goes to plan I hope we can have a few small events in the spring and open the barrel in October.”

Events are already underway at the Calabria Family Wines Griffith site in Brayne Road. This weekend they’ll be hosting their Gnocchi & Shiraz festival, where prosecco and shiraz will be served with a bowl of homemade gnocchi. Tickets are available on the winery website.

Original Article published by Oliver Jacques on Region Riverina.

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