“Any tips for setting out on your own and planting a vineyard?”
“Yes, don’t do it”
Nothing like a bit of brutal honesty from one the UK’s most respected wine writers, Robert Joseph, at the London International Wine Fair in 2005. Seeing as it wasn’t the answer we were looking for, we decided to do it anyway. Maybe he’ll be proved right, maybe he won’t but if you don’t do these things in life then you’ll never know and hey, even experts get it wrong sometimes.
After meeting in London, we decided in 2005 that we’d had enough of what we were doing. Yes, we were enjoying life but there was always that hollow, unfulfilled feeling down in our souls, so we decided we’d do something we were interested in. After consulting a shortlist of 3 career categories; wine, Spanish dancing and cricket, only one of those appealed to both of us…so wine it was. We wanted to work for ourselves, be physically and intellectually challenged and produce something we loved and could be proud of together. It was all beginning to sound like the start of a plan.
But how could we get there? You don’t want to just buy a vineyard and wade in straight away. So, we went to France, worked vintage in the Languedoc with three different producers and with the romantic idea of vineyards and winemaking well and truly extinguished we couldn’t have been happier. Step two was signing up to study winemaking and viticulture in Margaret River in Australia. Gilli did the degree and Paul did the post-grad diploma. The plan was always to get as much and as varied experience as we could in both cellars and vineyards whilst we studied and always with an eye on the goal – the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyard in Australia. Four years later and having worked in Margaret River, Oregon and New Zealand with some great producers, we decided it was now or never. Maybe we had enough experience, maybe not but you’ve got to take the plunge sometime.
So, in our pursuit to produce the country’s best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, we headed to Tasmania and after scouring the state, we decided on the Huon Valley. Neither too dry nor too wet, too warm nor too cold and with two of the most awarded vineyards in Tasmania (Elsewhere and Home Hill), the industry had barely scratched the surface of the myriad of microclimates within the valley. Within a few weeks of arriving, we stumbled upon a dilapidated 6.5ha vineyard, planted in 2005 and then walked away from. Opportunity beckoned. NE-facing slope, sheltered from the prevailing cold south-westerly and planted to six different clones of Pinot; perfect. Half the vines were dead, blackberry above our heads and about one hundred trees littered the vineyard; not-so-perfect. But it wouldn’t be satisfying if it wasn’t challenging. That was one of the reasons we decided to change our lives. If you love what you do and have a plan, then it doesn’t matter what the challenges are, they are surmountable and all-the-more rewarding.