Sandra Whytcross grew up in Heathcote where her parents, Vern and Noreen Scaletti, used to run the BP service station. Her husband Andrew grew up in Eltham, moving to Heathcote with his family when he was fifteen.
Sandra, Andrew (whose nickname is Rowdy), and their son Marty and his partner Megan, now run Idavue Estate. Their winery has expanded to include a gazebo, currently undergoing transformation into their new cellar door. This future cellar door area is a perfect venue for the ‘Reds and Blues’ music gigs that they present every two months, as well as for weddings and other special events.
When I was growing up here, Heathcote was a thriving town,” says Sandra. “The main attraction was Eppalock. We had a boat shed at the back of our service station where people could leave their boats. There were two supermarkets, and all the shops in the main street were full. With Lake Eppalock full again, it is a fantastic time for the town. Places such as Frank’s Fetching Treasures, Cellar & Store, the Tooborac Hotel & Brewery, the new Heathcote Estate cellar door, and the revamped Segafredo’s bakery, are all great additions to the town since the previous Eppalock boom.
“A full Lake Eppalock, together with the wine and food attractions that have been developed over the past decade, provide us with great opportunities. It is really important to have a range of shops open on the weekends, not only for visitors but also for the regular weekenders.”
When Andrew finished school he worked in Heathcote cutting timber and fire wood. “In the late 70s, I worked with Albino Zuber, whose vineyard used to be on the northern edge of town. As well as cutting railway sleepers with Albino and his son Frank, I picked grapes for them. Albino taught me “ about pruning, pressing, and bottling wine. I never thought that one day I’d be doing all this for myself.” The Zuber vineyard became the Shadowfax vineyard, but, in 2011, it was pulled out to make way for a housing development.
Running her parent’s service station developed Sandra’s business skills. She and Andrew married in 1979, Marty was born in 1984. “We moved to Yarrawonga in 1986 when Andrew got a job falling trees with Brymay Forests. I worked full time, but Andrew eventually cut himself out of a job once all the trees were felled so we needed to find another job for him,” says Sandra.
“We took over the music shop in Yarrawonga and ran that for six years. Andrew’s second love is music, wine being his first, says Sandra, “I think I come in around third or fourth! He is a Blues man who plays the guitar for his own enjoyment. We follow the Blues scene in Melbourne, Echuca, and Broadbeach in Queensland, and hope one day to take a couple of weeks to do Chicago.
“We moved from Yarrawonga, where we were surrounded by water, back to Heathcote, where the water was disappearing, to be closer to our families. We called it our drought-change.”
When they bought a bare paddock of land just north of Heathcote, Gerry McHarg told them that they would be mad if they didn’t grow grapes. “We decided to put vines in, but maybe that was the mad thing to do,” says Andrew. “We planted the vineyard, we did it all ourselves with the help of some dedicated family members.
“We built a barn and lived in that initially,” says Sandra. “Banks don’t loan money for a vineyard, but they do for a house. We invested all our savings in the vineyard and started planting in 1999. We had minimum irrigation and the first 10,500 vines struggled, but most survived.
“Our biggest challenge was a lack of water through the long period of drought from 1999 until 2010 when our dam filled for the first time ever. We had severe frosts in 2007 when it was minus five degrees at the bottom of the vineyard.” While establishing the Idavue vineyard Andrew also did, and still does, off-farm work cutting firewood and fence posts. This enables him to do what needs to be done in the Idavue vineyard and winery.
While establishing the Idavue vineyard Andrew also did, and still does, off-farm work cutting firewood and fence posts. This enables him to do what needs to be done in the Idavue vineyard and winery. “Up until 2010 I worked at vineyards including Sanguine, Flynns, and Mario Marson’s. I learned from people there, especially Mark Hunter at Sanguine.”
Sandra has worked off-farm at the Heathcote Hospital in finance and residential aged care administration for the past ten years. “I work there five days a week,” she says, “at nights and weekends I work at Idavue.
“We moved into our new house here in December 2004. In 2010 we built the first stage of our gazebo which provides cover and shelter for the ‘Reds and Blues’ music gigs. Marty is now a plumber. His partner, Megan Huggard, whose family also come from Heathcote, is a medical scientist. Marty and Megan live in Bendigo but both are actively involved in all the activities around the vineyard and winery. They are effectively taking over the promotion and administration of the music gigs this year. Marty is also becoming more involved in activities such as pruning and tractor work under the watchful eye of his father.
“We had a wedding ceremony here recently,” says Sandra, “with a few drinks and nibbles afterwards. The formal reception was held at one of the halls in town. We look forward to hosting more events.”
The outlook from the gazebo and cellar door is delightful, a wonderful backdrop for wedding photos. The gazebo provides adequate cover for the wedding party and their guests, with a capacity for one hundred guests. The dam, the vines and the forest, even with a light drizzle of rain, provide a very romantic background. Idavue Estate offers six music events a year, books acts well in advance, and now receives emails from acts that want to perform at the vineyard.
Sandra and Andrew have plans for the second stage of the gazebo development. “We’ll be partly enclosing the space, one wall with a fireplace, a wood-fired pizza oven, and a kids corner. We don’t want to be a night venue. Lazy afternoons with great wine and light food are what we are aiming for,” says Sandra.
Why do they work so hard? “There’s a sense of real satisfaction when you can sit and drink your own wine,” says Andrew, “but my favourite time is bottling day. That’s when we see the results of all our hard work. We are boutique producers. All our wines are handcrafted on site using traditional methods of handpicking fruit, basket pressing, and using French oak. Bottling is done with a mobile bottling unit on site.” Sandra and
Andrew are both delighted that Marty and Megan are becoming more involved in the family business. “My biggest challenge,” says Sandra, “is time management. Part of that is learning how to delegate. We now have official Idavue family meetings, giving each of us a chance to talk about what we are doing, and who is doing it.
“That Marty and Megan are keen to be more involved is wonderful. As the town develops and the wine producers improve at collaboration then the future of our family business and Heathcote’s wine industry looks good.”
Cellar Door opening hours:
Weekends 10.30 am – 5 pm