Celebrating 50 Years of Best’s Concongella Cellar Door

Viv and Ben Thomson 2024 Best's Cellar Door

If you’ve ever visited Best’s in Great Western, you’ll understand the charm of our Concongella Cellar Door. It is understated and quaint amongst a landscape of modern tourism experiences. But to us, it is home. This year, on 26 August 2024, we celebrate the milestone of 50 years of Best’s Cellar Door.

There’s quite the tale of how our Great Western Cellar Door came to be. For almost a century, we used a small place in the workshop at the front of the winery for tastings. Functional at best, it could only accommodate three to four people. It would open on Saturday mornings until lunchtime and fortified wines were the most common products consumed. In those days, it wasn’t wine connoisseurs or influencers who stopped by. Customers would turn off the road from Melbourne to Adelaide due to a small sign on the road and stock up on supplies. Someone in the winery would spot them and head down for a chat to sell them some wine.

A vision emerged to help grow and make the facilities more functional. Viv Thompson recalls a family friend, Derek Jolly, visiting and spending time with Chris and the family. Chris and Derek suggested relocating the old horse stables to the front of the property. It was a contentious plan as money was tight. Eric Thomson had just lived through the Great Depression and was never one to spend a penny. Derek had a friend in Adelaide, John Dalwitz, who was involved in the restoration business; he knew carpenters who worked with redgum living in Barma along the Murray. It took much debate between Viv, his father Eric and Uncle Bill to agree with Chris and Derek’s idea, yet the massive relocation went ahead with precision planning.

It’s worth remembering that in the early 1970s, only a handful of wineries existed in Victoria, and few were familiar with the cellar door concept. Despite this, visitation was increasing, and the Thomson family wanted a place to share their wines and sell directly to the public. Considered an extension of the winery, the stables were full of charm and character. They beautifully fit the cellar door bill by providing more space close to the winery and the historic underground cellars dug by hand in the 1870s.

Henry Best’s Original Stables

At the property, Henry Best’s original horse stables were located right next to the homestead at the back of the winery near Concongella Creek. Back in the day, it was a functional site with a flagstone floor and a veranda for shelter. It housed the blacksmith, the shearer, and the slaughterhouse. Early photos show that it was quite the hub of activity. This building was earmarked as the new tasting facility, preserving the property’s history while creating a more functional sales space.

Fifth-generation Ben and Hamish Thomson fondly recall the old stables flanked by a peppercorn tree in their original spot. In their younger years, they’d spend many hours in the peppercorn tree in a treehouse built by their dad, but unfortunately, Ben Thomson was allergic to peppercorns and always came inside with a rash!

A Modern Engineering Feat?

The old stables had been a part of the site’s history for over 100 years and are estimated to date back to the 1870s. Moving them required careful planning. No nails were used in the original building, and the roof was screwed in. Beams, local timber, and other materials were locally sourced, reflecting a past that required preservation. Ben Thomson talks about the historical significance of one of the buildings at Ballarat’s Sovereign Hill. Whilst it was only located at a small distance of less than 100 metres, it was critical to get this project right.

Deconstructing the old stables at Best's to move and create our Cellar Door


Each plank was numbered and taken apart piece by piece. The timber was made upright with slight nodes, and one notch would fit into the other to slide together. All was moving along nicely. However, no one factored in the young Thomson children living on the property, and did they put a spanner in the works! Ben and Hamish recalled how it would be funny to rub off some chalk markings and change things around. Needless to say, the consequences are well remembered to this day.

A concrete slab was poured as a foundation, and the building was reassembled. Ben and Hamish’s meddling meant some of the beams did not fit together as originally intended. The floor was covered with boot polish to hide the concrete. The new surface tempted the kids to ride their bikes on it, and Ben Thomson soon learned that his parents, Viv and Chris, did not welcome the skids on the new floor.

Our Great Western Cellar Door

The family and staff got involved, and piece by piece, the delicate project of relocating this historical building was finally complete. Trading commenced on 26 August 1974. There was no ceremonial grand opening, more a sigh of satisfaction that the stables were still intact. Much of Henry Best’s original possessions were put in the tasting room, and a tasting bench was assembled using some of the old timber. Many of these elements are still present today.

New Cellar Door in 1978

The ‘Stables’ Cellar Door was positioned at the front of the working winery, with a pathway down to the underground cellars. Further changes would continue over the next decade. Our first winemaker, Trevor Mast, joined the winery at a time when interest in table wines increased as consumers were exposed to more options. It created an exciting opportunity to refine our style and move away from fortified production.

The new premises attracted more visitors. In the early days, it was more about filling flagons with fortified wine, but as the culture around wine grew, so did the interest.

Stawell Times announcement of Best's Cellar Door


Let Viv Thomson guide you on a virtual tour of this extraordinary building.

The Cellar Door remains true to the values of the Thomson family – humble, welcoming, and not overstated. It is one of our best-kept secrets, highlighting the depth of stories and layers of history that can be found on this special site.

Current Managing Director and fifth generation Ben Thomson notes, “This 50-year milestone further cements the longevity of the Best’s brand. People walk through the door and are immediately taken by the history and the story. Many have heard about the cellar door, but until you’ve visited, it’s hard to visualise how special this place is. It’s not shiny but oozes character, and the people who work here take great pride in sharing our stories with customers.”

Chris and Hamish Thomson at Cellar Door


Many long-term staff have been integral to our story, building the character of what makes this site unique. Lionel Delzotto, a Cellar Hand who worked with Best’s for over thirty years, was the ultimate storyteller and could tell a tale. Lionel was charged with ringing the old Ship bell in the morning and afternoon to signal the beginning and end of the workday. Diane Radford started working in Best’s office when she was 16 and continued working with Best’s for many years. We’ve been fortunate to have several long-term staff members who have all formed part of the fabric of Best’s.

It was also through the Cellar Door that Ben Thomson met his now-wife Nicole when she came to work at Bests in 2011. They married eight years later, and today, Nicole runs the wine club based out of the Cellar Door. The family is still actively involved, often pouring for wine-loving pilgrims who make the journey to this special site amongst the historical vineyards planted by Henry Best in 1868.

Over the years, visitors coming through our cellar door have become part of our extended family. Many guests are now wine club members, often bringing the next generation of their family back to sit down and enjoy the wines. In 2021, post-COVID lockdowns, Best’s extended the cellar door. The tasting experience changed slightly by seating our guests, but it remains humble and authentic, and the space continues to feel like an extension of our home.

As we celebrate the 50-year milestone of this remarkable site, we realise how fortunate we are to be custodians of this slice of Victorian history. We’ll continue to evolve our operations, but at the heart of what we do is great wine and sharing our stories with our customers.

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