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Vine Change for the Good Life

Ever dreamed of making a vine change? Meet some daring individuals who took a leap of faith to embrace the good life – vinous style.

We’ve all been there. Visited a winery, wandered through the vines, dreaming of days spent pruning tips and tasting wines straight from the barrel. Of course, this romantic picture glosses over the constant stress of too much or not enough rain, grape-eating pests and the changing tastes of fickle consumers.

But for a special selection of wine producers, the challenges were never too great. Their dream of a life on the land was enough motivation to pack in their career and take up the secateurs for a life dictated by vines, veraison and vats.

For Todd and Jeff of Belford Block Eight in the Hunter Valley, it was love at first sight of their property’s driveway. As Jeff explains, “Todd and I turned off the car, listened to nature, admired the olives, turned to one another and said, ‘this is it.’” Jeff gave up his job in the finance department for CanTeen and Todd left Ebay, where he’d worked for 12 years in strategy, marketing and analysis. Neither knew anything about winemaking.

But on their property were around 12,000 vines, so, as Todd describes, “Jeff and I tracked down a bottle of 2006 Brokenwood Block Eight Semillon, a single vineyard release made only using our grapes and it was truly remarkable. So, we thought, maybe there’s an opportunity to make some nice wine from these grapes, let’s give it a go!”

And given it a go they certainly have with their first ever wine, the 2014 Reserve Semillon now an award-winner. It hasn’t been all plain sailing, though, and they’ve learnt some valuable lessons. Apart from the vagaries of harvest, the necessity of tractor headlights and that their deckchairs are just for show, they also know that un-neutered piglets turn into boisterous 150kg boars and goats can be as loyal as dogs. But regrets? “No bloody way, mate!” is Jeff’s answer, “One day we’ll sit on those deck chairs, sipping on a 20-year-old Block Eight, admiring what we’ve built.”

Healthy vines

Back in 1997, while Jeff and Todd were still slogging away in the corporate world, over in South Australia’s Clare Valley, medical professional, Anura Nitchingham planted his first vineyard. He’d chosen Clare because, he says, “The region is really an unsung hero in the world of viticulture. It’s unique and has some really great producers in a very small, but beautiful region.”

That first planting has grown into Claymore Wines, one of Australia’s most unique wine brands. While Anura hasn’t left his medical career, he says that winemaking provides something medicine can’t: “Vines don’t complain! And there’s wine!”

The medical theme is also part of the story of Hobbs of Barossa Ranges. Allison Hobbs was a nurse and her husband was a former policeman turned firefighter when they bought their vineyard in the Barossa. Their decision to make a vine change was borne of a desire to provide a rural lifestyle for their children.

Like Jeff and Todd, Allison and Greg knew very little about making wine, but the stars aligned, providing them with some strokes of good fortune in the early years. Foremost was they happened to buy the property next door to local winemaking expert, Chris Ringland, who provided invaluable advice and made their wines.

While being a nurse, police officer or fire fighter might be worlds away from making wine, Allison and Greg feel they brought vital skills from those professions to their new endeavour. As Greg says, “attention to detail is very important to both nursing and winemaking”, and Allison adds, “the observation techniques you learn in nursing, the police and fire brigade are important as we wander through the vineyard and take note of what’s right and what’s not.”

Livin’ in the 70s

Although Allison, Greg and Anura faced challenges in the mid-1990s, things were even more basic in the 1970s. Having left successful careers in the emerging computer industry, Linda and Ian Tyrer bought a property in WA’s Mount Barker region to establish Galafrey Wines. Again, they had no experience, but, as Linda describes, she arrived at their new home four months pregnant, armed with a few thousand grape cuttings – “naive but starry-eyed, full of enthusiasm.”

A lack of money meant a lot of back-breaking work, but by 1985, they had won their first Trophy and Ian’s tireless dedication saw him awarded the George Mulgure Award for outstanding service to the industry in 2003. Unfortunately, the same year, Ian lost his battle with cancer. However, his legacy lives on with Linda still at the helm, along with daughter Kim, who left her own career as an artist to return to the vines.

One thing all these people would agree on is that a life among the vines is a hard slog. But is it the good life? Absolutely!

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A wine from Coonawarra that is a Cabernet Sauvignon /Merlot and Malbec blend. IT WAS MASSIVE and I thought wow, I need to try more wines. It really blew my socks off as I hadn’t tried anything as big and succulent as that before. Can you cook? If so, what is your ‘signature dish’? I love to cook. With a toddler and husband that works away, time is limited but when I can, I love to invite friends around and cook. Homemade pasta with a trio of different sauce options is always a winner. The other is a stuffed squid. A recipe I have had for about 20 years and it never seems to fail. What do you do to relax away from the winery? I love to chill at home but my favourite getaways are anywhere near the water. I love the beach in winter and the river in summer. Anytime with my family is a bonus and I have great friends who are around for a catch up…which usually includes wine and food!
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Meet Bruce Tyrrell from Tyrrell's Wines
Tell us about your back ground: How did you come to work for Tyrrell’s Wines? I was born into it, so have been here all my life, from chasing cattle and being a bloody nuisance until my teens and then working in all parts of the winery and vineyard. No school or university holidays ever. How is the 2018 vintage shaping up? We’ve started harvest earlier than last year, and the berries are smaller from the dry winter, spring and early summer. First real flavours coming the week of the January 8 th  and there looks to be a smaller overall crop, but it’s a bit early for a quality call. It might be another 2007. What varietal is looking ‘the goods’ for Tyrrell’s wine lovers? Semillon still runs in our blood stream and with the range of top vineyards we now own or control, we have a style for most palates. There has been a big jump in our Chardonnays in the last 10 years, so they are also worth a look. Do you have a favourite wine to make? Semillon, because it is all about getting the soil, season and maturity right in the vineyard. It is the most naturally made wine. Can you recall the first wine you tried? We used to be given a bit of wine with water from about the age of six or seven years old. As we got older the water became less and so we were weaned into table wine from an early age. When did you fall in love with wine? After the third bottle of great Burgundy…but I fell in love with everything that night! Do you remember that moment? What happened? I don’t really remember, but had lots of lawyers’ letters accusing me of all sorts of things. What is your all-time favourite wine memory (other than a wine itself)? Standing in the vineyard at Romanee-Conti and being part of sharing a double magnum of 1865 Chateau Lafitte. What is your ultimate food and wine match? Aged Semillon and fresh seafood caught locally. Can you cook? If so, what is your ‘signature dish’? Not really when the specialty is vegemite on toast! What do you do to relax away from the winery? I love to go to the beach or more recently, playing with my grandson and undoing all his parents’ good work. What do you think is special about the Hunter Valley region? Nowhere else is like the Hunter. The conditions can be tough, but that builds character and initiative. The styles are fine and elegant, but have the ability to live in the bottle which is the hallmark of a great area.
Favourites - What is your favourite… Book – why? Lord of the Rings – I read it every 10 years and read more into it each time. It’s the best adventure story ever written. Movie – why? The Pawnbroker starring Rod Stieger. I saw it in 1967 and reckoned it contained the best acting I ever saw. TV show – Vikings will take a lot of beating because of the little details being so accurate. Time of day/night – why? Night then everyone can see as badly as me, and it has an inherent quietness and peace. Sport – Earle Page College Armidale 2 nd Grade Rugby League which I coached for two years. Rugby League, Rugby Union and cricket. Beer – Light and cold and crisp, none of the over hopped craft beer rubbish. My all-time favourite is Anchor Steam out of San Francisco.      
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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