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Canberra district wine pioneer Edgar Riek dies aged 95

Canberra district wine pioneer Edgar Riek​ OAM has died, aged 95.

He has been remembered as a visionary who had a knack for choosing where to build a vineyard and an inspiration to winemakers in Canberra and beyond.

Friends say Dr Riek suffered a serious head injury after falling on Monday afternoon. He was taken to Canberra Hospital, where he died on Wednesday.

Dr Riek moved to Canberra in 1945 to work as an entomologist with the CSIRO.

In 1971, he planted some of the region's first wine grapes.

He chose the site at Lake George after weekly drives to Crookwell from Canberra while studying potato moths. On frosty mornings, he had noticed a patch between the two towns, a little green pocket, where the windscreen would defrost.


Ken Helm, another Canberra district wine pioneer who once worked with Dr Riek at the CSIRO, said he was an incredibly intelligent man and a "world expert".

"Edgar was a pioneer not just in wine, he was a pioneer in horticulture, a pioneer in insect fossils, he was a pioneer in Australian freshwater crays [yabbies, marron].

"In every field he touched, he was not one who would look at it frivolously. Edgar had to know everything about it and, in many cases, became an authority not just here, but around the world.

"He will be sadly missed by me."

Mount Majura Vineyard's Frank van de Loo called Dr Riek a thinker and a visionary.

"He was just a huge figure. For me, he has special significance. He selected the site for the vineyard that I look after; he was instrumental in what I was doing."

In 1988, Dr Riek predicted a patch of red soil on the north-eastern slopes of Mount Majura would produce unique wines.

"Thirty odd years later, we're still finding he was correct," Mr Van de Loo said. "We're enjoying the fruits of his discovery."

As to the question whether Dr Riek was the first to plant wine grapes in Canberra, Mr Helm said for Dr Riek, that was all "bloody nonsense".

"Edgar always said ... being first doesn't really make it the best," Mr Helm said. "It's a matter of what you planted and how successful you were after."

Nobel laureate Brian Schmidt, also a winemaker, tweeted his condolences.

"My condolences to the family of Edgar Riek - one of the founders of the Canberra wine district - who passed away ... well miss you!" he wrote.

In an interview with The Canberra Times in 2013, Dr Riek said he had no idea the region, while not very big, would become so highly regarded.

"It's still not very big, [but] I didn't realise it would be so well renowned; that's the big surprise to me," he said.

Dr Riek started the Canberra District Vignerons Association and the National Wine Show of Australia. He was also involved in forming the Horticultural Society of Canberra and publishing gardening guide The Canberra Gardener.

In 1996, he was awarded the OAM for service to viticulture and to entomology.