Peter Dredge grew up in Brighton when it was still part of North Elwood. “It was a working class suburb then,” he says. “I was lucky enough to go to Melbourne High School and then I started a course in Agricultural Science at the University of Melbourne. About half way through the course I realised that I needed to identify a specialisation that interested me.
“I had an interest in wine drinking, partly because my two older brothers enjoyed drinking it. I transferred to Roseworthy College to study winemaking. Holiday jobs at wineries in the Yarra Valley, at Yarra Burn and Wantirna Estate increased my interest in wine, not just in drinking it, but also in the processes of making it.
“Through the College I got a job as a cellar hand for the 1981 vintage at Rouge Homme. I changed my enrolment from the Bachelor of Oenology to a Graduate Diploma in Wine and was able to use all the basic science subjects I had already completed. I was also working in wineries at Coonawarra.
“1981 turned out to be the last term I spent at Roseworthy. I had planned to return in 1982 to finish the Graduate Diploma but Dad became ill. I wanted to spend time with him so I deferred from Roseworthy and got various jobs around Melbourne. When Dad died I enrolled in a distance education course at the Wagga campus of Charles Sturt University and continued my studies while working in Yarra Valley wineries.
“Then a job came up in the Hunter. Judy and I were married by then so we moved to Cessnock and spent a couple of years in the Hunter Valley. Through a fellow distance education student I ended up back in Victoria working at Wildwood Vineyard at Bulla for thirteen years. I looked after the vineyard and made wine at Wildwood as well as consulting to a number of wineries as far away as Gippsland.
“The consulting work covered everything from winery start-ups to winemaking, usually for between eight and ten different businesses. It involved a lot of travel and I found it quite stressful. I went back to winemaking at Witchmount Estate at Rockbank, as well as becoming the first winemaker at Galli Estate.
“I’d been thinking about my own vineyard. In 1994, I saw an advertisement in The Age for a Heathcote property of five acres of old vines, for $100,000. I’d been looking in South Gippsland, around Malmsbury and Kingower, but I’d been looking for a small block where I could start from scratch. I decided to check out the old vines at Heathcote. I came and had a look with my good mate Pat Carmody from Craiglee.
“Judy and I decided to mortgage our Melbourne house and buy the block, it was 1994. There were five acres of vines on the block, two thirds cabernet and one third shiraz. Plus an old red train carriage and a BBQ, but no power and no water. As I researched the block I found it had a fascinating history.
“In 1971 Werner (Vern) Viertmann, a German soil scientist working for the Soil Conservation Authority as manager of the Lake Eppalock Project, had selected it as the best bit of land for growing vines in the area. He named it ‘Red Hill’ and planted vines in the deep Cambrian soil on what he considered to be the perfect slope for vines. The Cambrian soil here is up to six metres deep, so it supports deep roots and good water penetration.
“Stuart Anderson, founder of Bendigo’s Balgownie Estate, made Vern’s first wines but then Vern was off to Tunisia to set up a soil conservation curriculum. He returned to Heathcote briefly, but was off again to Morocco, Kenya and Tunisia where he retired in 1995. He continued to do consulting jobs while he worked on restoring a ruined olive oil mill in the South of France.
“The next owner was Laurie Williams, a famous Kyneton viticulturalist, who was in partnership with John Flynn, a silversmith of some note. Laurie, who had worked for Vern, made highly acclaimed wine from these vines, under the Flynn & Williams label in the early 80s. There were a few more owners, including Rod Hourigan who now owns Eppalock Ridge.
“Now that the Zuber vines on the northern edge of Heathcote have been ripped out, I think it’s safe to say that the Red Edge vineyard is the oldest surviving vineyard in Heathcote, although there are some older vineyards nearby at Graytown. Over the years we’ve bought more land, including the block next door and one in Jacksons Lane in South Heathcote, so we now have about thirty seven acres under vine.”
Since establishing Red Edge, Peter has also worked with Hoddle Creek Estate’s Franco d’Anna and helped out making wine with Mark Hunter at Sanguine Estate.
“My biggest challenge was establishing new vines without any irrigation through the drought years. The biggest buzz has been having a job that I am truly passionate about. I buy a lot of wines from many countries but at heart I am a francophile.
“I’ve done a vintage in France where my passion was rekindled and I was able to learn a number of artisanal techniques which I now apply to my winemaking. The best learning I ever did was when I was in the south of France, the southern end of the Cote D’Or, where they take a very hands-on traditional approach to winemaking.
“Marketing is a challenge. I’ve had a really good distributor in Melbourne for many years, and we export much of our wine to the US. With the high level of the Australian dollar, we’ve had cancellations from the US, but now export to China with a smaller quantity going to each of Canada, Switzerland, the UK, Kuala Lumpur and Germany. I’ve been to China and was surprised at how highly they value Australian wines which have become sought after prestige gifts which are such a feature of business life in China.
“If I had a magic wand I’d ask for a cellar door and improved winemaking facilities. I’d love to see my kids become involved in the business.
“Our son Will is currently doing Science at the University of Melbourne, and he is thinking of doing medicine. Our daughter Natalie is in Year 10.”
Peter now spends weekends in Melbourne with the family and the rest of his time in Heathcote. “The kids have grown up watching how much work there is in wine production. They know it’s not a great way to make money, that there’s lots of tedious work involved. I do three months of pruning, and tedium sets in after about three weeks. But overall it’s a great lifestyle. To be able to work at what you are passionate about is priceless.”
Werner Viertmann, founder of Heathcote’s Red Hill vineyard (now Red Edge) is also author of ‘Australian Odyssey,’ a 646-page book about his travels around Australia on a motorbike during 1955 and 1956. He wrote the book in German on his return to Germany in 1957 and translated it into English after he retired. The English version was published by Sid Harta Publishers in 2009. The back cover says, “Some of the characters I met were definitely odd, but the tolerance of odd characters was much greater in the bush than elsewhere in society.”
$29.70 in any dozen
$33.00 per bottle
Out of stock
The Shiraz is an individual vineyard wine made from the original vineyard, now 40 years old, planted in 1971. It is dense, rich and concentrated, with complex savoury secondary characters overlying the sweet plummy Shiraz fruit. Partial barrel fermentation in new French oak barriques and extended maceration on skins of the remaining must, builds depth and texture. This helps balance the power and natural ripeness of the dry grown Heathcote Shiraz, resulting in a multi layered, rich and powerful palate, but still with elegant fine grained tannin structure and length.