Doctor Max Lake - Surgeon, winemaker, writer and bon vivant. Doctor Max Lake was a truly amazing individual - Australia’s first specialist hand surgeon, and later a true giant of the Australian Wine Industry. Max established Australia’s first boutique winery, Lakes Folly, in the Hunter Valley, on his ‘weekends off’. Widely regarded as the ‘father of the Australian Boutique Wine Industry’, in 1988 The Bulletin Magazine referred to Max as “the man who started the Australian wine boom”.
Born in 1924 to an American mother and Australian father, Max was brought up in a cosmopolitan Sydney household – his father running the Australian division of movie studio Metro Goldwyn Mayer. At the tender age of 16, Max commenced his medical studies at The University of Sydney, and published his first paper, on the hypothalamus, when he was 18. University was also where he met his wife-to-be, Joy Townsend, who was also studying medicine. After graduating, he furthered his studies at the Royal College of Surgeons in England in the early 1950s, finishing top in his year. Max Lake went on to have a 40-year career in medicine.
In his spare time, and in addition to lecturing, judging wine and beef among other things, Max wrote books - some twenty in total (self-publishing 14 of them) mostly on wine, food and surgery. Publications that included ‘Classic Wines of Australia’, ‘Vine and Scalpel’, ‘Scents and Sensuality’ and ‘Hunter Wine’, to name just a few.
But it was the establishment of a little winery in 1963 in Pokolbin, in the Hunter Valley, that possibly is regarded as his finest achievement. In an era when fine wine production was scarcely considered, Max’s vision to create a boutique winery specialising in producing only two wines – those two being lesser-known varieties for the region, of Cabernet and Chardonnay – was regarded at that time, as a ‘folly’. However, the cult following that was to ensue was beyond Max’s expectations and Lake’s Folly still enjoys the same loyal following to this day, with its red rated as the ‘Most Collected Cabernet’ in Australia and the white the second ‘Most Collected’ Chardonnay in Australia.
In 2002, Max was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM), for “service to the establishment of the boutique wine industry in Australia as a winemaker, judge, promoter and author”.
Max Lake passed away, aged 84, on the 14th of April 2009.
Not just a legend by Hunter Valley standards, Max was an icon of the Australian Wine Industry; a trailblazer and pioneer, the likes of which may not be seen again. But his legacy remains, and will continue into the future through Lake’s Folly.
Max Lake was inducted as a Legend in 2007.