KEVIN Sobels, a Hunter Valley Living Legend of Wine and fifth-generation descendant of an influential German immigrant Barossa and Clare Valley wine family, has died at the age of 78.
His funeral will be held on Monday at St John’s Anglican Church Cessnock at 11am and is also being livestreamed online.
After long battling serious heart problems, he died on May 10 in Maitland Private Hospital
He is survived by his wife Margaret, sister Nancy, sons Jason and Laurence, daughter-in-law Fiona and grandson Harry.
Mr Sobels was renowned for habitually wearing a Sherlock Holmes-style deerstalker hat as he worked at his and Margaret’s Muswellbrook winery and later at their vineyard and winery on the corner of Halls and Broke roads, Pokolbin.
The Sobels family Australian wine saga began with Carl August Sobel, who trained as a winemaker in his native Germany and France’s Champagne Region and in 1847 quit his home in the Saxony-Anhalt town of Queldinburg to migrate with his family to South Australia.
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Kevin Sobels’ Upper Hunter story began in 1972 when he swapped the Barossa Valley for a new challenge in the post of winemaker at the then new Denman Estate venture, based on grapes from the Roxburgh and Mindaribba vineyards.
In 1974 he and Margaret established the Queldinberg winery on the New England Highway at Muswellbrook, basing production entirely on bought-in grapes – in those days a rare occurrence.
At Muswellbrook both Margaret and Kevin took active roles in community affairs and Kevin was one of the prime movers in establishing the Upper Hunter Vineyard Association in 1976 and the Upper Hunter Wine Festival launched in 1977.
In 1986 the Sobels family moved their operation to Pokolbin, taking over the vineyard on the corner of Broke and Halls Rd, in recent years working alongside a sixth-generation wine industry Sobels, their Roseworthy marketing course graduate son Jason.
In 2018 they sold their 22-hectare Pokolbin site and the wine business with its 13-hectare vineyard, winery, bottling line, cellars, tasting rooms and manager’s residence to Sydney-based property developer Romeciti.
Margaret recalls that his dedication to deer stalker hats began after her father bought him one in 1974 while on a visit to Scotland. As Margaret and he were building their Muswellbrook winery, they spent a winter living on-site in a caravan and Kevin found the hat’s fold-down earpieces ideal for countering the intense cold.
Sadly his original gift hat met its end when it fell into a tank of fermenting red wine, but he continued to buy replacements and to make a deerstalker part of his persona. And, says Margaret, the hat will be on his coffin at today’s funeral service.
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