Bob Nixon started planting the vineyard in 1978 to provide stress release from his financial planning business and as part of his own longterm retirement planning. Bob’s first career was as a business studies teacher. His American-born wife Barbara worked in a stockbroking firm, in religious education, and then with the American Cancer Society as an Executive Director.
In 1991, Barbara and Bob started one of Australia’s first wine touring businesses, Victoria Winery Tours. They sold that business when they opened their cellar door in 2001. “Bob’s been a salesman since he was eight years old,” says Barbara. “As a twelve-year old he sold lollies at the Melbourne Olympic Games in 1956. He taught me how to sell.”
Barbara’s experience in taking customers on winery tours gave her an insight into what visitors want from such experiences. This insight has resulted in significant increases in visitor numbers to Gisborne Peak Wines and in cellar door sales. “In 2010 we had more than 10,000 cellar door visits,” says Barbara, “the numbers have really grown in the past few years, as much as thirty percent each year. I knew from running winery tours that people want a view of the vineyard. It is an important part of their experience to be able to see what is out there come to life in their tasting glass. They also like to relax over a glass of wine with food.
“As we left cellar doors I’d ask why they bought wine there and their answers varied. They liked stories about the people who made the wine, they liked the people, they loved the dog or the scenery, and they also liked the wine. When people visit cellar doors they make a connection with the winery and the people there, and that can last a long while.
“Photos around our cellar door show how the vineyard developed from a patch of dirt to what they can see today. We preserved Bob’s ‘dreaming hill’ so he can still sit there and enjoy the break from his hectic life as a financial advisor. He works four days a week in his financial services business and then spends three days working in the vineyard. Bob spent the first twenty five years of the vineyard’s life stating that there would be a cellar door over his dead body. But he now looks after the vineyard, I run the cellar door and cafe, and our wine is made by John Ellis at Hanging Rock Winery,” says Barbara.
Barbara met Bob briefly when they were both at a conference venue in the US in 1985. She was there attending an American Cancer Society event, Bob was there for a professional association meeting. The only other conference in the venue was an FBI one. When Barbara saw Bob in the lift she knew he wasn’t attending her conference, and “he certainly didn’t look like an FBI man, they were all tall and slim with dark suits and no facial hair.
“I asked him where he was from and he said ‘Australia.’ I wasn’t sure where Australia was, he was the first Australian I’d ever met. The following night I saw him at a disco that a few of my fellow female conference delegates visited. When he saw us enter, he admits that what he saw was a table of new talent. I recognised him as the guy from the elevator.
“We had a drink and a dance together that night and went our separate ways. Then he called me and said ‘What about breakfast ?’ We exchanged addresses after breakfast and went our separate ways again, off to our various meetings. But I couldn’t concentrate on my meeting. For a small fee a maid took me to his room and I left a note saying that I felt something special. While I was in his room leaving a note, he was downstairs outside my conference rooms waiting for me to emerge. Then he had to leave. He left a card with my luggage at the concierge saying ‘we can’t ignore the chemistry.’
“That was the start of a long distance romance. There was no Internet, no texting, no tweeting, no Facebook, just wonderful letters. There were complications. We were both in marriages that were not working. I had a twelve year old son, a nine year old daughter, and a mother who was distressed at the thought of divorce. Six weeks after I met him for the first time, I visited Australia to meet his family and work colleagues.
“Moving to a county I knew little about, including where it was, made no logical sense. Bob was keen to know what I’d be wearing on my arrival, so I said ‘A teal pantsuit,’ I think he wanted to make sure that he would recognise me. A few days later we arranged to meet some of his colleagues at the Windsor Hotel. When I arrived there I noticed people looking at me, and then one said ‘Are you Barbara?’ Apparently Bob had told them ‘she’s no stunner,’ and that’s become a regular joke between us over the past 25 years.”
In the time she has been in Australia Barbara has made an impact on local tourism. She has been President of the Macedon Ranges Vignerons Association, and was made a life member of Tourism Alliance for her work on regulatory reform in tourism.
The eco-cottages that provide accommodation at Gisborne Peak were partly funded through a Federal ‘TQUAL’ tourism grant. A condition of the grant was that the cottages be built by a certain date. There was a delay while some planning objections were addressed. “We’ve had the most remarkable tradesmen working on the cottages,” she says. “They have erected the three cottages in thirty eight working days. The roofer was here one night, with his headlights on, working at night! They have been magnificent.”
Barbara started an adopt-a-vine project to provide people with more engagement with the vines. “We have Open Days when vine adopters visit their vine. Many vine adopters volunteer at our picking and pruning days. They have fun, and they learn more about the winemaking process. We develop an ongoing relationship, and we raise money for charity through the adopt-a-vine program.”
Given her early days in fundraising for cancer research it’s not surprising that Barbara is still involved in raising funds for charities. Each year, she and Bob select a charity for fund raising. It was MS in 2010, and Parkinson’s Disease Research in 2011. They have a number of fund-raising activities at the winery, details are at the web site. Gisborne Peak Wines is in easy reach of Melbourne, just twenty minutes from Tullamarine airport. Its cellar door is open every day, with food and accommodation also available.
Cellar Door hours:
The winery is open 7-days a week (except Good Friday and Christmas Day) and serves wood-fired pizzas every weekend and public holiday. Tasters Platters are available daily.
Monday – Friday: 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays: 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.