The bare paddock that Greg and Natala Flynn finally selected after inspecting forty or more properties in the Heathcote region has been transformed into a vineyard, a winery and a bistro. Greg worked full and part time in the wholesale and retail liquor industry for twenty or so years. He also completed part time study in wine marketing at Roseworthy College, and winemaking at BRIT. By 1999, he was ready to live their dream of making fine wine.
Natala, then a charge nurse in cardiology at Western Hospital, was ready to embark on the adventure with Greg and she also completed a winemaking course at BRIT. They planned, saved, and set about investigating Heathcote properties.
During his wine marketing course, Greg completed an assignment that assisted him in selecting the best wine region for wine production. He investigated all the major wine regions of Victoria, analysing the viticulture, winemaking, and tourism potential of each. “These are critical issues,” he says, “but just as critical is the need to be an eternal optimist. ‘Next year will be better’is what you need to focus on when there are late frosts, not enough rain, or economic downturns,” says Greg.
“I was aware of the success of Jasper Hill from my wine selling days. But there are many factors to consider in choosing the best area for growing grapes and making wines. Heathcote looked good with regard to land prices. My assignment analysis also rated Heathcote highly on low disease, consistency of ripening, and recognition as a quality wine area. When we started, the tourism infrastructure was not so well developed, but that is gradually improving.”
Greg and Natala left their full time employment in 1999 and started work on the infrastructure needed to live on the property and build their vineyard. “We did everything ourselves. We built the barn, which became our first winery, as well as a machinery shed, and a weekender. We put in every one of our two thousand trellising posts and ran out fifty kilometres of wires. We did all the soil preparation.
“Our relationship survived all this. We worked together on the viticulture, the winemaking and the sales. It was exciting to see things take shape but exhausting as well. It was a total change from our previous working lives. As the activities increased we needed a division of labour so we could manage our business as well as our domestic lives. We now have two daughters, Zoe and Bonnie, and we enjoy spending time with them. We both work on the winemaking, the viticulture and the family. I look after retail and restaurant sales while Natala looks after the bistro, functions, cooking and administrative tasks. We’ve gone from having one full time job each to having several full time jobs each,” says Greg.
“We employ two permanent part time staff and three or four casual workers. We use local trades people wherever we can, and we employ locals during harvesting.” A sign in the Heathcotean bistro which Greg and Natala added to the winery a few years ago proudly proclaims ‘Buy local – we do.’ The bistro attracts many return visitors with family gatherings proving popular.
“There’s a growing number of tree changers moving into the area. Some start out as weekenders but eventually retire here. Our customers include tourists and locals and we are seeing an increase in corporate functions for Bendigo and Melbourne companies.”
Along the way, Greg and Natala have learned a lot. “If we had our time over again,” says Greg, “we would have stayed in paid employment longer so that we had more capital, and could have employed people to assist in setting up the vineyard and winery. One of our most challenging periods was when we opened the bistro just prior to Easter 2007. We were inundated with customers, which was great. But we served forty five to fifty lunches each day over four days, it was a baptism of fire. Our main concern was to retain our desired quality of service.
“High on my wish list for the future is improved signage. There is a bend in the Northern Highway just before our turnoff and we are only allowed to place signage right at the turnoff. Visitors need a warning sign so they can slow down ready to turn as they come around the bend. Signage is an ongoing issue which faces many tourism operators, not just wineries. For both safety and business reasons improved road signage is at the top of my wish list. Creative tourism signage is an essential part of tourism infrastructure and increased tourism can bring more prosperity to struggling rural communities.”
Cellar Door hours:
Saturday & Sunday 11.30am-5pm
Friday light lunches 12-2pm
Saturday, Sunday & Public Holidays 12-3pm