Icon of the Barossa,
Managing Director Michelle Geber

By Lisa Gmur, CSW

Château Tanunda was established in 1890 and has some of the first vines planted in the Barossa Valley. It is also one of the regions first wineries. European immigrants have been planting grapes in the Barossa Valley since the 1840’s. The rest of the world didn’t get to enjoy any of the wines these grapes produced until much later.

Yes, Australia is halfway around the world. So there is that. But Europe had its own wines and wineries and didn’t need to import wines all the way from Australia. That was until fifty years later when Europe’s vineyards were decimated by the phylloxera plague. Suddenly there was great interest in the wines from the Barossa Valley.

Château Tanunda is privately owned by the Geber family who bought the winery in 1998 and restored the magnificent property to its iconic status. Its 130 years of winemaking heritage makes it the only internationally-recognized winemaking Château in Australia.

michelle geber director tanunda
Michelle Geber, Managing Director, Château Tanunda

Château Tanunda team
Michelle Geber, John Geber, & Neville Rowe

Michelle Geber is the Managing Director of family-owned Château Tanunda winery and also an emerging voice of the region’s old-vine heritage and Australian fine wine.

She has a background in international relations (University of Sydney), wine business and production, in both Australia and the United States. She has brought back to prominence one of the Barossa’s showpiece wineries with their collection of old-vine vineyards first brought to Australia from Europe.

Geber grew up on the northern beaches of Sydney speaking different languages. Her mother Evelyne is Swiss and her father John is South African. “So I think from an early age I’ve always had an international flavour in my life, but with a really proud Australian upbringing. I think that really set me up well because Château Tanunda is an international business,” she says.

After University Geber worked in Samoa for the Australian government focusing on making women owned businesses profitable. From there she headed to America to work as a brand manager for a winery. There she saw a trend she really liked. “I saw a trend, particularly in family wine businesses, where there are a lot of daughters coming through into management and executive positions, particularly buyers. I think we’re starting to see the numbers even out.”

So far so good, working in the family business. “I love that Château Tanunda was established in 1890 and it really means a lot to me to be at the helm of a winery that is so significant to Australian wine.”

John Geber, Proprietor and Custodian of Château Tanunda says of these magnificent vines, “Our heroes are vines that are old, rare, and collectible. We have 50 year old vines, very unusual in the world of wines, and 130 year old vines. These are wines that are intense, they have stepped across three centuries, and they are rare and very collectible.”

John Geber displays the gnarled and twisted old vines dating back to the first days of the Barossa settlement in the 1840s when German and English pioneers planted their treasured cuttings.

Geber’s most recent project is a tasting space in Sydney.

“We have acquired access to a beautiful space in the historic Rocks precinct to set up a wine tasting bar, a space to present the best of Château Tanunda wines direct to Sydney wine lovers. It is only an intimate space, designed to privately host smaller groups (2-18) by appointment only, offering an elevated level of wine tasting experience. A home for people to discover the “Old Vine Expressions” from 50, 100 and 150 year old vineyards in Australia’s largest city.”

With the Geber family at the helm, the last 20 years have seen a remarkable investment and restoration period with significant developments in the sunken garden, croquet lawn, maturation cellars, basket press winery and a dynamic strategy of purchasing key vineyards, which has launched the winery onto the international stage to considerable acclaim.

Michelle & John Geber in the vineyards

Geber’s new role as Managing Director is exactly what the winery needed, at least according to Dad. “Like many family businesses, ours is undergoing a generational change.” said John Geber, Michelle’s Dad and family Patriarch. “The opportunities for luxury, family owned Australian wine is well known.”