Wines of Western Australia acknowledges the passing of Dr John Gladstones AO. Dr Gladstones was a nationally and internationally recognised agronomist whose work has had a profound impact on Western Australian agriculture and our community more broadly.

His career at the Western Australian Department of Agriculture spanned more than 20 years with a primary focus on lupin breeding and is considered to be the “father of the lupin industry” in Western Australia. He considered vines to be a “side interest … more of a hobby”. How fortunate we are that he did pursue this hobby.

In 2022, he was awarded Officer of the Order of Australia for his distinguished service to primary industry, particularly agriculture and viticulture.

His book, “Viticulture and Environment” (1992) was awarded Special Distinction in Viticulture by the Office International de la Vigne et du Vin in 1994. The book is considered a viticultural classic utilising a vast databank of climatic data for Australian and international grape growing regions to illustrate the profound interactions between viticulture and environment.

Further recognition of his work in viticulture include:

  • JS Gladstones Trophy, Wine Show of Western Australia
  • Cullen Award for Excellence 2017
  • Maurice O’Shea Award, McWilliams Wines 2008
  • Margaret River Wine Association Lifetime Achievement Award 2007
  • Honorary Life Member, American Society for Ecology and Viticulture 2002
  • Sheraton Jack Mann Award, Western Australian Wine Press Club 1987

He is most noted for his generous, humble and collaborative approach to his work and his hobby. He was a mentor to many future leaders in the Western Australian wine industry and guided the development of the Margaret River region particularly through his support for farmers who were considering to put into practise the ideas he outlined in his paper, “The Climate and Soils of South Western Australia in Relation to Vinegrowing” (1965).

As Margaret River producer Vanya Cullen notes, Dr Gladstones advised her father Kevin that he would be, “mad to plant lupins, you should plant grapes”.

We include the following observations on his life, work and character from colleagues and friends in the wine industry and the Department of Agriculture below.

Vanya Cullen – Cullen Wines Margaret River

As we approach our Legacy weekend, recognising past Award for Excellence recipients including dear Cullen family friend, Dr John Gladstones AO, it was with great sadness to hear the news of his passing last Friday. Dr John Gladstones was a man of integrity and humility; a scientist and humanitarian to the core, curious about everything and always making enquiries about new ways. He gave so much to the Western Australian Wine Industry, never claiming anything other than to help and give and create the beginning of one of the world’s great wine growing regions…Margaret River.

It is the end of an era, and we will be forever grateful for all he has given; a true Margaret River Wine Region Founder in that it was his research which started Margaret River’s modern day wine industry. Dr Gladstones is credited with being the first to recognise the potential of Margaret River as an ideal wine growing region, with his 1965 and 1966 papers, which confirmed soil and climate conditions similar to Bordeaux. He also helped with the proposal of subregions in Margaret River by drawing  a map of subregions in 1999. Dr John Gladstones was the second recipient of the Cullen Awards for excellence in 2017.

David Watson – Woodlands Wine Margaret River

The stars certainly aligned when Professor Olmo was appointed by the State Government in 1955 to investigate declining yields in table grapes in the Swan Valley, and in his 9 month stay proved it was not Phylloxera but Nematodes. He collaborated with Jack Mann, and professed his opinion that the Swan was too warm for fine wine grapes, and that the South West, particularly the Great Southern would be climatically ideal for the production of high-quality wine grapes.

Prof Olmo was given the next-door office to John Gladstones, and they had many conversations. At this time, Jack Mann had given John about an acre of sandy soil on Houghton in which to propagate his lupin trials, and John naturally came under Jack’s tutelage about wine, and the joint discussions with Olmo, and had a hallelujah moment.

John recalled his holidays in Augusta as a child, and knew that grapes and other fruits ripened down there, with great fruit intensity, contrary to conventional wisdom that said it was too cold for grapes to ripen, and set his mind to it, resulting in his famous 1965 paper in which he showed with meticulous detail, that the western coast between Cape Leeuwin and Cape naturalists was climatically similar to Bordeaux, albeit a bit warmer. The next year, a second paper was produced specifically stating that Bordeaux grapes, (Cabernet Sauvignon) in particular should flourish in this area.

Dr Kevin Cullen contacted John re planting Lupins on Cullen land at Wilyabrup, and John suggested wine grapes could be a good proposition. Kevin advised Dr Tom Cullity about this and arranged for the land to be purchased by Tom for planting what is now Vasse Felix.

John was also an early member of the Swan Valley Vintners Club (along with Tom Cullity, and of course Jack Mann) and showed his keen perception of wine appreciation in a very precise and erudite manner, but also in a quiet way. It was a pleasure to hear his views on the wines in the blind tastings.

Peter Forrestal – Author

Dr John Gladstones AO 

It is possible to believe that some people may have underestimated John Gladstones: once. He was quietly spoken, pensive, and with a mind like a steel trap that could still spring shut into his nineties. He was a quiet, caring man who had strong opinions but was always keen not to give offence.

John Gladstones was an intellectual whose clear thinking and lucid prose has made his areas of expertise widely available. His research in agriculture and viticulture has been ground-breaking and has added unimaginable millions to the wealth of Western Australia. He bred the first crop varieties of narrow-leaf lupins which are now grown all over the world. And his research into viticulture provided the spark that led to the establishment of a world-class wine industry in Margaret River.

Offering a potentially surprising perspective on this work he commented ‘Lupins were the core throughout my career,’ he said. ‘I also got involved in pasture legumes and subclovers. The vines were really a side interest; it was more of a hobby.’

His publications include Viticulture & Environment (1992, revised 2016) and Wine, Terroir and Climate Change (2011) and his memoir Days of Lupins, Pastures & Wine (2019).

While working at the University of Western Australia, Dr Gladstones combined scientific rigour with his personal knowledge – largely through family holidays in Augusta – to write two seminal papers in 1965 and 1966 which suggested that the area around Margaret River could produce exceptional wines.

After writing the first paper, Gladstones decided to spend as much time as possible in the area to gather data. His much-loved, late wife, Pat’s favourite anecdote concerns John driving the family: her, Robert (2) and Helen (3 months) on a nine hour, 250 mile tour of the area. Later, he protested and commented ‘I did afterwards try to learn my lesson from this, but balancing an absorbing scientific life against loyalty to the family was never easy.’

Although the second paper was never published, it was widely circulated and highly influential; leading to the establishment of a raft of wineries and a wine industry in Margaret River. After retiring from the Department of Agriculture in 1991, John Gladstones became more involved in wine industry affairs playing a significant role in determining the regional boundaries for Margaret River.

The publication of Viticulture & Environment firmly placed Gladstones on the viticultural map of Australia and was a key factor in him being awarded the 2008 Maurice O’Shea Award for making a historically significant contribution to the Australian Wine Industry. As Huon Hooke says in The Real Review:

“Dr Gladstones was presented with the award in front of more than 450 guests at a gala dinner in Sydney on November 12. McWilliam’s Wines chief executive offer, George Wahby, said the award recognised Dr Gladstones’ pioneering research into grape growing and the environment… ‘research that presented the industry with incredible insight into this important partnership.’

Dr Gladstones said he was both astonished and humbled that his work, which had started as little more than a hobby, should have proved successful and ultimately been recognised with the award. I’m proud to stand in the company of the award’s previous recipients, and most of all in that of the great Maurice O’Shea,” he said.”

In 1990, John Gladstones was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished services to primary industry, particularly agriculture and viticulture and as an author. His daughter, Helen, has been a huge help to John with the publishing and promoting of his books while he took great joy in son, Robert’s work as Principal Horn for the Western Australian Symphony Orchestra.

Dorham Mann – Western Australia Department of Agriculture Viticulture and Winemaking Team, 1964 – 1971

I have known Dr John Gladstones from an early age when my father Jack Mann, at Houghton, provided him with a rabbit-proof fenced area of about 1 acre to do his PhD work with lupins. He often met with my father, enjoying a glass of wine and talking about wine and WA regional prospects generally. I am sure these occasions contributed to his interest in wine and wine-grape growing. John was a long-time good friend, and I always admired his amazing abilities. We often talked about wine and wine-growing prospects in WA. Of course, developments in the Margaret River Region were inspired by John Gladstones’ initial paper.

The Western Australian Department of Agriculture assistance to our wine industry helped to realise the vision set out in his 1965 paper. My appointment in 1964 as an adviser in winemaking and wine-grape growing, provided support to established winemakers along with the selection of properties in our cooler regions of the South West and Great Southern. No other state gave this category of assistance to their wine industry. It was a recommendation of the Olmo Report of 1955 and my work was overseen by then Government Viticulturalist Bill Jamieson.

Tony Devitt – Western Australia Department of Agriculture Viticulture and Winemaking Team, 1972 – 2004

I was a student of Dr Gladstones prior to embarking on my career in agricultural science. Dr John Gladstones AM, was an eminent scientist, lucid communicator and inspiring mentor who influenced the lives of many and in my case, along with the iconic Jack Mann, his impact was career changing. 

John was acknowledged as a Leader in the field of Agronomy and Plant Breeding, but it was his research and the way he presented a lucid argument to support his hypotheses that initially attracted the interest and commitment of many to pioneer a wine industry in the south west of WA.

Not only did John provide this inspiration, his internationally acclaimed publication “Viticulture and the Environment” became essential reading for any one contemplating embarking on a career in the wine industry in particular, or considering the production of a range of other crops.

As a student of John’s, his skill as a wordsmith was impressive. I occasionally quipped that he made the breeding of lupins sound exciting! John’s quick mind and clear argument for the things he believed in will be missed, the outcomes of his thoughts and writings will live on.

An inspiration and mentor to many.

Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development

The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) has paid tribute to former researcher Dr John Gladstones and his significant contribution to advancing Western Australia’s primary industries. John started his career at The University of Western Australia and moved to the former Department of Agriculture in 1971, where he worked for more than 20 years.

Prior to his foray into the wine sector, the acclaimed scientist was regarded as the premier plant breeder of his time for developing subterranean clover and serradella pastures, before domesticating narrow leaf lupins for lighter soils – now grown around the world.

After a trip to Bordeaux, France, where Dr Gladstones noticed the similarities in the growing and ripening season to the Margaret River district, he focused his attention on mapping the soil and climatic conditions – opening up the region to wine production. In 1966 Dr Gladstones presented his analysis to a group of farmers and interested parties to garner interest in developing pilot grapevine plots to test suitability for wine production in the Margaret River region – the rest is history.

The department’s viticulture team built on his work, selecting, evaluating and distributing wine grape varieties and clonal material, which saw the expansion of the South West wine industry across the Great Southern, Margaret River, Geographe, Blackwood Valley, Manjimup and Pemberton regions.

Ever curious and dedicated, Dr Gladstones continued his research and publishing books on viticulture well into his retirement.

Dr Gladstones was bestowed many accolades, including the first inductee into the Royal Agricultural Society Hall of Fame, the Farrer Medal for plant breeding in 1975, the Cullen Award for Excellence in 2017 and an Order of Australia in 2022.

The JS Gladstones trophy awarded to the wine that shows the best and most distinctive regional character at the annual Wine Show of WA commemorates Dr Gladstone’s contribution to the viticulture industry.

DPIRD Deputy Director General Cec McConnell said Dr Gladstones left an enduring legacy, which saw the birth of new industries and opportunities for WA.

“While I did not know John Gladstones, those who did say he was not only a brilliant scientist, with a great eye for detail, he was also a great visionary who could see the bigger picture and integrate science and systems with opportunity,” she said.

“A humble and articulate gentleman, I’m told he was a natural leader with an unmatched worth ethic, a champion of shared knowledge and generous mentor. John’s work with the department spanning pastures, lupins and viticulture has laid the foundations for ongoing research and development to this day, which has been carried on by his many devoted colleagues and the viticulture industry.”

Vale Dr John Gladstones.