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Karl Stockhausen: A man for the times.

Updated: Feb 14, 2020

Karl Stockhausen: A man for the times.

Bob’s Blog From Around Hermitage

A man for the times.
Karl Stockhausen

At 90 years and still going strong Karl Stockhausen has lived through and contributed to the renaissance of the Hunter Valley wines. Appropriately a small gathering of friends gathered at the Mcguigan/Peterson resurrected Ben Ean – the site of the old Lindemans to wish him a happy birthday. Julz Van de Berg organized a night of memories led by Brian McGuigan, John Davis, Bill Sneddon, and Julz herself.

Many there commented on the help and advice given over the years, his gentle laugh and real friendship.

Max Lake in Hunter Wine Makers commented on the smile in the corner of his eyes and his positive approach. “his quite pleasant manner was refreshing to the workers in the vineyard”. “ He likes friends at the table to share a good steak”

I have enjoyed his company at the monthly Diners Club dinners and his continued interest in the wines-rarely not picking the masked wines and enjoying the comments.

However, it was at a similar age to James that Karl began to make a name for himself and embark on a 50 plus career as a winemaker.

Not just a winemaker of course, in the early days of the revival of the Hunter wine industry, as Karl has said-“ you were also manager, clerk, answered the phone, and it was very much a one-man show”.

Born on the 26 January 1930 in Hamburg he moved to Australia in his early twenties and ended up at the Greta migrant camp in 1955. With a background working for Unilever as an industrial accountant he decided to travel and Australia was his chosen destination. Karl almost immediately found himself working in the vines and as a cellar hand at Lindemans Ben Ean in the Hunter Valley.

David Paterson, in his book Hunter Wine Country (1984) asked Karl the puzzling question of how with his background in accountancy did he become a winemaker. Ray Kidd, a graduate of Roseworthy College, gave Karl his notes and as Karl said “I gleaned every bit of Knowledge I possibly could from him. Some days we would talk wine all day until I was full of it. It was largely a matter of getting into it and doing it.”

Self-improvement is an understatement when it comes to Karl. He ordered winemaking books from Germany, sought out mentors and was in a position to take the risk and put things into practice. Winemaking had become almost a cottage industry in the Hunter and opened the way for many such as Max Lake and Len Evens to try their hand.

Timing is everything as they say. When Karl arrived in the Hunter the wine industry was at a low point. By 1956 there were only 1300 acres left under vine. Karl told David Paterson “in 1959 the Hunter was on the downgrade, production was down, vineyards were pulled out and yields were extremely low; there was no hope for it, but fortunately, that has all changed”

The year was 1960, some would say a pivotal year that ushered in a change in the Hunters fortunes. It was the decade that saw the birth of small Boutique wineries led by Max Lake and Len Evans. The ‘60 vintage was however disastrous with hailstorms virtually wiping out the whole district. Opportunity shines on those who can utilize it and it fell into the hands of Karl. Hans Mollenhauer has unexpectantly resigned and had recommended that Stockhausen replace him. The small yield enabled Kidd to leave Karl to his own devices.

So he managed to cobble together enough white grapes, predominately Semillon with a touch of Traminer and Verdelho to make a wine. It turned out to be an absolutely fabulous wine- 1960 vintage bin number 1616.

With the post WW2 migration, the drinking habits of Australians were changing and table wine was emerging as an OK drink beyond the traditional beer.