Margaret Jacqueline Crittenden
18 October 1942 – 26 November 2020
WELL known Mornington Peninsula vigneron and restaurateur Margaret Crittenden died at George Vowell Aged Care facility on Thursday, 26 November. She was 78. Her funeral service was held at Tobin Brothers, Mt. Martha, on Friday, 4 December. Her husband, Garry, compiled the eulogy on which this obituary is based.
Marg, as she was generally known, was an only child, born at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Hospital, East Melbourne, to Jack and Marion Down, on 18 October 1942. Jack, a trained accountant, originally from Warrnambool, met Marion in the late 1930’s while he was working at the Onkaparinga Woollen Mills near Adelaide. Marion was born and raised in Adelaide. After marrying in 1941, the couple moved to Melbourne.
Upon leaving hospital, Marg was taken to the family home at Domain Rd, South Yarra, and she spent all her childhood and teenage years living in South Yarra and Prahran.
Her entire school life was spent at Melbourne Girls’ Grammar in South Yarra, where lifelong friendships formed. This was where she met her oldest and dearest friend Carolyn McIntyre, who was later bridesmaid at Marg’s wedding to Garry Crittenden.
They didn’t know it at the time, but for decades to come they would enjoy many family gatherings with the McIntyres, the Rabys and the Crittendens; including the tradition of Boxing Day lunch.
Marg demonstrated her sense of adventure at an early age by frequently, unbeknown to her parents, escaping through her bedroom window in the early dawn light to hitch a ride on the horse drawn milk carts around the streets of Prahran. It was this exposure to horses, including harnessing and feeding them at the milk depot stables, that gave her a life-long love of them.
She became a member of a suburban pony club in her teens and was very enthusiastic and supportive when daughter Zoe became interested in horses twenty years on.
On leaving school, she entered the nursing academy at The Alfred Hospital in Commercial Rd and lived, for part of her time, in the student nurses’ accommodation there. Graduating in 1963, Marg continued to work at The Alfred until the call of Europe beckoned, as it did in those days for so many girls in their late teens and early twenties.
Embarking in Melbourne on the SS Orcades in 1965, Marg ended up in London. She then travelled around England, Scotland and Wales, before taking a job, of all places, at a mink farm in southern England.
The possible highlight of her time away was purchasing an Austin A30, shipping it across the Channel to France and, with a girlfriend, spending months driving around France, Spain, Italy, Germany and, perhaps the ultimate adventure for the Cold War period, going as far east as Czechoslovakia.
Marg returned to Australia via the Panama Canal, travelling through the Pacific, briefly stopping in New Zealand, and then home to Australia, where she resumed her nursing career.
By the late 1960’s, her parents had moved to North Balwyn, so Marg purchased a flat in the conservative suburb of Hawthorn, which is where she was living when she met Garry through mutual friends in 1969.
By now, she had left the disruptive shift work of day-to-day hospital nursing, and had secured a job in the pathology research laboratory at Prince Henry’s Hospital in St Kilda Rd.
After a courtship lasting two years, the happy couple were married in Christ Church, South Yarra, on 26 February 1972 and, in lieu of a honeymoon, the groom gave his new bride a toaster and a washing machine.
Garry had started Crittenden’s Nursery in Mt Eliza in 1967, specialising in the increasingly popular Australian native plants. The retail nursery prospered due to the housing boom taking place around Frankston and Mt Eliza at the time.
For a while they lived in Marg’s flat in Hawthorn and Garry drove to the peninsula seven days a week. Eventually the rigours of driving over an hour in each direction daily, before the advent of freeways, became too much, so they decided to move down to the peninsula, purchasing a house in Mt Martha in 1973.
They spent the next two years there, and their first born, daughter Zoe, was born at Frankston Hospital on Christmas Eve 1974.
By now, Marg was working in a private pathology service laboratory in Frankston. However, the daily travel and odd hours became a bit onerous on life with a new child, so the decision was made to move closer to her work. That is how the family came to purchase 106 Kars St, Frankston, in 1975; a landmark house in the locality due to its mock Tudor façade and ample gardens on three building blocks; enough for a large vegetable garden.
The house was in need of some love and attention, so Marg relished the opportunity to show her flair for period decoration by giving the interior a thorough makeover. Garry satisfied himself by digging a wine cellar under the house for his ever-growing collection of bottles. It was while living there that Rollo was born on the 13 June 1976, eighteen months after Zoe.
In 1978, the family took a holiday, driving a hire car around Tasmania; the journey included Garry getting bogged, and subsequently rescued, on an abandoned rail track on the West Coast near Strachan.
On that holiday, the family had dinner one night in Hobart at a restaurant purporting to sell Tasmanian wine; something Marg and Garry had never heard of. After being convinced by the waiter that it was legitimate and being given a name and address, they returned to the motel where Garry rang the now legendary Claudio Alcorso at 9pm. Claudio generously granted a meeting at Morilla Estate the following day and tasted them through his astonishing range of virtually unknown wines, grown on his property at Berridale (now known as Mona) on the Derwent River in the northern suburbs of Hobart.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Mulling it over for a few weeks after returning from the holiday, Garry proposed over dinner one evening that maybe the family should sell up everything and move to Tasmania to plant a vineyard. Marg was not so enthusiastic although, exactly nine years later, in 1987, they did plant a vineyard in the Coal River Valley near Hobart (with Marg’s full support).
Back on the mainland, the kids were in preschool and prep at Minimbah in Frankston where the family got to know one of the first vineyard owners on the Mornington Peninsula, Nat White of Main Ridge Estate. It took little time to convince Marg that it could be a bit of fun to plant a vineyard somewhere on the peninsula, especially as she realised that she and the kids would be able to have horses on a country property, unlike living in Frankston.
After spending the best part of a year combing the peninsula for likely sites, they eventually found and purchased the place the family still occupies to this day in Dromana. And they didn’t have to sell up everything either; just the family home. The nursery business remained intact for the time being.
In September of 1982, family and friends gathered on the property over one weekend to plant the first five acres [two hectares] of vines, and in so doing, doubled the entire aggregated area of vines planted on the Mornington Peninsula at that time, from five to ten acres.
Marg embraced farm life enthusiastically, from planting the vines in 1982, to providing the workers with generous lunches and designing her dream home which, in 1984, after their first vintage, the family moved into. Today, it still stands and serves as the office and the wine centre.
As the years rolled on, Marg was the mainstay of the family and for many years, during the ten to twelve weeks of vintage from March to May, she provided endless meals for family, friends and itinerant workers engaged in the process. So much so that it gave her the inspiration for what became her crowning glory: her restaurant and wine-tasting room, which today houses Stillwater Restaurant.
Marg’s lifelong ambition to have horses came to fruition, and she and Zoe cared for them. Zoe’s interest in horses grew increasingly until she was riding competitively on a regular basis. Marg thought nothing of getting up before dawn on cold and rainy winter mornings to hitch up the horse float, load the horses and a lunch basket, and head off to Pony Club. On one occasion Garry was asked to fill in and be the float driver. He took a corner too fast, the horse slid and fell onto its side and it took half an hour to get it, luckily uninjured, upright on its feet. Garry was never asked again.
After Zoe completed her tertiary education, she returned to the family business in 2004 and is a major contributor to its ongoing success.
Rollo attended Charles Sturt University in Wagga to study winemaking and spent vintages in the King Valley, Hunter Valley, Oregon, California and Piemonte in Italy, to gain exposure to the broader industry. Today, he heads up the family business and serves as president of the local vigneron’s association, as well as sitting on a number of national industry boards and committees.
Marg was justifiably immensely proud of her children’s achievements and was hoping to see her grandchildren follow suit and flourish in their careers.
The contribution made by Marg to the family wine business cannot be over-stated. On a whim, she erected a trestle table in the then winery building during the January 1988 summer holidays. With nothing more than a notepad, pen and a cash tin [no such thing as a till or credit card devices in those days], she opened the peninsula’s first “Cellar Door”. Garry was unaware of this development as he was away at the London Wine Trade Fair aiming to develop an export market. He only found out about Marg’s “Cellar Door” when he returned home in early February after the summer holidays were over.
Marg was so taken with the potential that she went on to conceptualise, design and build her real cellar door and restaurant, and worked behind the stoves there, seven days a week, for the next thirteen years after opening in 1992. It was, categorically, the first cellar door restaurant on the Mornington Peninsula. Today, it still operates as Stillwater Restaurant.
After Marg hung up her apron in 2005, she then went on to conceptualise, design, build and manage (for the next five years), the three multi-tourism award winning Lakeside Villas that adorn the lake on the property and are now managed by Rollo’s wife, Linda.
Between the years 1984 and 2011 Marg compiled a significant collection of press clippings and other memorabilia about the establishment of vineyards and wineries on the Mornington Peninsula.
This was published in December 2018 after the Crittenden family had completed 35 consecutive vintages, and stands as a seminal history of the early days of the Mornington peninsula wine industry.
Her contribution to the family business notwithstanding, Marg was a leader and innovator who made an immense contribution to the Mornington Peninsula wine industry. In 2003 Garry was inducted as a Legend by the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival for his contribution to the wine industry in Victoria. He firmly believes Marg would have been a more worthy recipient of that honour, for the years of unstinting service and sacrifice she made on behalf of the wine, food and tourism industries of our state.
Marg will be remembered as a devoted wife to Garry, mother to Zoe and Rollo, grandmother to Finn, Maia, Oscar and Digby, and a very loyal friend to countless others.