For five years Clare and Bernie de Kok searched throughout Australia and New Zealand seeking land for their planned vineyard. Their ‘must-have’ list included an existing house, existing vineyard with high quality fruit, and a good location with access to a small primary school.
Their large family of seven had been living in a forty square house but the three older children were remaining in Melbourne to start their own careers. Clare especially wanted a small primary school, “so the kids would get more personalised attention. We wanted to get them out of the city so they could grow up away from the rat race in a better environment.”
The first property they looked at was in Toolleen, just north of Heathcote. The last was at Glenhope, just south of Heathcote. But in between these locations they looked at several other places in South Australia, especially around McLaren Vale. They also looked in Tasmania and New Zealand. The previous name of their vineyard was Mia Creek Estate. “But, there’s no Mia Creek anywhere near it, and it’s not really close to Mia Mia.” says Bernie.
“Glenhope is a magnificent location. We are high enough here that we get cooling breezes from the McHarg Range all through summer. One hour before sunset, in it rolls, as regular as clockwork. We call it the ‘Glenhope Doctor ’. The regular breezes reduce fungal problems with the grapes, and the setting is picture perfect. We don’t go away for family holidays, we love being here. We are so close to everything, yet we have a truly peaceful oasis.”
For Clare, the vineyard and its setting provides a perfect place to wind down and relax after a day at work. “I’ve always found vineyards to be peaceful places,” she says. “I grew up around vineyards. My uncle had a vineyard at Kingower, near what is now the Passing Clouds vineyard. When I was around ten years old, I ‘helped’ in his vineyard by collecting all the grapes off one particularly laden and knarly old vine. I put them in an ice-cream bucket and placed it in the freezer. My cousin Deb helped.
“We just wanted to make grape ice blocks. We didn’t know that particular vine was the sole surviving vine from the first plantings around 1890. It was the signature vine. I remember my uncle chasing us out of the vineyard. It was a good lesson that not all vines are equal. Despite this early experience I still find vineyards very peaceful.” Bernie is a long-term wine collector as well as a wine drinker. “Visiting vineyards, meeting winemakers, tasting wines and selecting some for the cellar has always been a favourite pursuit,” he says.
Before becoming a winemaker Bernie had a succession of very different jobs. “I was an electrician, a fork lift driver, a police officer, and am now a computer programmer working on point-of-sales and inventory management systems,” he says. He is the winemaker, while Clare, the one with the green thumb, manages the vineyard. Bernie’s advice to any potential winemaker is “Go for it. I can’t think of a better lifestyle.” He now works from home most days with Clare in the other home office.
Clare has a full time job as Executive Officer for the Grasslands Society of Southern Australia, a national farmers’ association, which combines her love of the land with her management skills. She has been a journalist and an event organiser and has worked for many community groups. “I get a real kick out of helping people,” she says. “I love working with farmers and the agronomist community to increase farming potential.” Clare’s work takes her all over the southern states but she can’t wait to get home. “It is truly a paradise at Glenhope Ridge, a walk through the vineyard is very therapeutic.”
There are now five acres of vines, with plans to plant another five. “We still haven’t decided which variety to plant,” says Clare. “The existing vines are shiraz but we are considering varieties such as durif, we are high enough for that, but also grenache. They both have low water requirements. We irrigate frugally, so it’s important to have varieties with lower water needs.”
Clare and Bernie see a very positive future for the Heathcote region. “The region has so much to offer,” says Clare. “The wine is important but there’s much more than wine. We need to promote all the produce of the area. Olives, almonds, walnuts, fruit wine, lamb, and beef, just to mention a few. With everybody working together to promote the whole region the potential is immense.”