Dr Ray Beckwith OAM was one of the founding fathers of modern Australian winemaking and is best known as the first person to adjust or control pH to control bacterial spoilage in wine.
Ray started working with Penfolds in January 1935 (on the current Beckwith Park site). As a young 23 year old winemaker, he was responsible for 105 twelve-ton fermenting tanks. It was common that 20-40% of all wine produced ended up in the gutter or in the stills, as bacterial spoilage was rife throughout the industry at the time.
Ray’s intention was to see if there was any correlation between total acidity, pH and taste. On a train trip home to Murray Bridge, Ray Beckwith had a brainwave which would change winemaking world-wide forever. The means of adjusting pH levels, and therefore reducing bacterial spoilage, was by using Tartaric Acid, a natural constituent of wine.
Ray was forbidden to speak of his discovery, but gradually his idea leaked and that magic formula has since become the standard for winemakers all over the world.
Despite this internationally significant discovery, and many other breakthroughs which improved the quality of wine, Ray played “second fiddle” to other more famous colleagues such as Max Schubert, the creator of Penfolds Grange.
It wasn’t until 2006, 30 years after his retirement that he was awarded the Maurice O’Shea Medal the Australian wine industry’s highest honour. This was followed by a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2008. Although he had always lived humbly in Nuriootpa, he was privately thrilled about this late in life recognition. As he said in one interview: “It’s a good thing I didn’t conk out earlier, otherwise I wouldn’t have known.”
Ray died on 7 November 2012 at the age of 100.