“I never imagined I would end up making wine,” says 89-year-old Josef Chromy, as he recalls events that led to him fleeing the former Czechoslovakia in 1950 as a 19-year-old. Much less would he have imagined that one day he’d lunch with the Queen, employ 530 people in a butchery business, or launch his own winery at age 76. Yet all these achievements are Josef’s own to reminisce upon. His is a tale of remarkable success built from the despair of a country under siege.
As with so many immigrants, Josef Chromy arrived in Australia with little more than empty pockets. What he did have, though, was a master butcher diploma from Prague, and a dream to open his own business. After escaping Czechoslovakia and spending five months living on food scraps in Austria, Josef was finally granted his political refugee visa and came to Australia. Taking whatever work he could find, Josef accepted a job at an asbestos sheeting factory in Tasmania. For someone who’d spent more than half his life under successive Nazi and Soviet occupation, the asbestos factory offered an agreeable alternative to a potential lifetime under communist rule. “My village was headquarters of Nazi command and many atrocities were carried out,” he recalls. By 1957, Josef had turned his job at the factory into an opportunity to open his own butcher’s shop and small-goods business. By 1994, he was exporting meat around the world and, three years later, received the Order of Australia medal for his services to business and industry.
In his sixties, having developed a deep interest in wine, Josef turned his attention to Tasmanian vineyards. He invested in a few wineries and also created Tamar Ridge which, thanks to his deft touch in business, soon became the largest winery in Tasmania. Accepting offers too good to refuse, Josef sold the businesses, but discovered he missed dabbling among the vines.
By now in his seventies, he purchased a “hobby farm” a little away from the Tamar River. Cooler nights and warmer days offered prosperous conditions for grape growing, and Josef’s hobby turned out to be his best-producing vineyard yet. Clearly, this was going to be more than a relaxing diversion, but shortly after purchasing the fledgling vineyard, he suffered a stroke, incapacitating him for months. “My staff suggested I call the business Josef Chromy Wines. I couldn’t argue with them because I couldn’t speak!” he says. A stroke wasn’t about to deter him from giving Josef Chromy Wines everything it needed to succeed. He employed the most experienced staff and created not just a vineyard, but a winery and cellar door, complete with a restaurant that has become a destination of its own accord. Visit the winery on our 12 Day Tasmania Complete tour.
Josef can be proud of a great many things but he says he was thrilled when the Josef Chromy Chardonnay 2011 won Best Chardonnay in the World at the Decanter World Wine Awards. “Not bad for a penniless refugee turned octogenarian winemaker!” he says.