Displaying an entrepreneurial spirit he soon established a saw mill in Seymour, purchased land in Seymour’s Anzac Avenue, and built shops and a picture theatre. He also owned a picture theatre in Beechworth and showed movies in the Mechanics Hall at Broadford.
“Pop was very entrepreneurial,” says Adrian. “He sponsored many Italians from the Veneto region to come to Australia to work for him. At one time Seymour had the largest Veneto population outside of Italy. Like most Italians, Pop made some interesting wines over the years.
“They weren’t really wine as we now know it, but as kids we thought it was great and we used to make an ‘Italian shandy’ by mixing the wine with lemonade. Growing up, wine was always part of our culture. Pop used wine to help swallow his pills. As kids we were encouraged to drink a little wine. The family always had wine with dinner. The Italian custom is to drink wine while eating, not as a separate experience. The wines were lighter than many are now, with lower alcohol.”
Adrian’s partner, Deborah Jones, grew up in Melbourne’s inner city suburb of St Kilda. Like Adrian, she took on teaching as a career. “One Tuesday morning in 1990,” she recalls, “the Age newspaper had a ‘vineyard for sale’advertisement. Adrian said, ‘Why don’t we buy it ?’ That was the start of a two year search for a suitable property. Our kids were young and we needed to keep working in order to fund our wine journey, so we had some constraints on what would be a suitable location for a vineyard.
“We’d been working through Bendigo real estate agents and we’d missed out on three potential properties. The last agent we approached said, ‘We’ve just got a new property, come and take a look at it on Friday.’ The then owner, Graham Lewis, was still debating whether or not to sell. His family had health issues and he decided to sell it to us. Fortunately we developed a relationship with him which has been built on over the years since we acquired the property. He still visits us to check on the wines and see what we’ve been up to.
“Our house at Lady’s Pass was built for one of the largest pastoralist holdings along what is now the Northern Highway. We are only the fourth landowner here. We have a beautiful historic house along with an established garden, and our property is bounded by the Northern Highway and Schoolhouse Lane.
“We were meant to take possession of the property on 20 th December 1992. When we arrived, both the Northern Highway entrance and the Schoolhouse Lane entrances were covered by flood water. We ended up with a room at the Heathcote Motel, and the flood water receded the next day. It rained all through December and January. Our creek ran all through the summer. We’ve never had rain like that since then.”
As soon as they had made the decision to become winemakers, Adrian enrolled in a four year part time Associate Diploma in Science, majoring in viticulture, at Charles Sturt University. He completed the course in 1994, having produced their first vintage in 1993. Their children attended Heathcote Primary School and Rochester Secondary School, and are now experiencing city life. Deborah took on emergency teaching work and Adrian found a teaching job in Broadford until he retired in 1998. By that time they had around seventeen acres under vines.
Deborah has no hesitation in identifying the best thing that has happened to them as winemakers. “Adrian has turned himself into a great winemaker,” she says without hesitation. “He has been described as an intuitive winemaker with the ability to create wines which are elegant and express the distinctive individuality of the vineyard.”
Identifying the biggest challenge for Heathcote winemakers is easy for most of the region’s wine producers. It is lack of water. “We have very low yields because of the lack of water, around one tonne an acre, but we have the same infrastructure costs as smaller vineyards in highyielding areas,” says Adrian, “and that affects our pricing. It’s a very competitive market, many are having a tough time surviving. The Heathcote region is considered a premium wine area. One magazine recently referred to Heathcote and Canberra as ‘sexy wine regions’, but, even so, many grape growers face an uncertain future.
“Like most industries, we have big players and small players. The challenge for us all is to identify the relative roles of all the players in the industry. At the moment wine consumers are being a little spoilt as there are great wines at low prices. Quality needs to be considered and that’s where Heathcote’s dry-farmed low-yield wines excel. That needs to be our focus. We need to compete on quality, not on volume.”
Despite the current challenges facing the wine industry, Deborah and Adrian are positive about the future of the Heathcote wine region and have recently renovated their cellar door. They are seeing an increase in the number of cellar door visitors. “We love to see visitors at the cellar door and we also enjoy local support. For example, we really appreciate the support we get from Mary Dent at the Commercial Hotel, where they serve local wines by the glass,” says Deborah.
Cellar Door opening hours
11am – 5pm daily