John and Marilyn Frederiksen’s Glenhope vineyard and winery, Rowanston on the Track, is on the border of two wine regions, Heathcote and Macedon Ranges. Apart from a period in the US, in the late 1990s, Marilyn and John have lived and worked in Central Victoria since the early 1970s.
Prior to moving to Rowanston in 2003 they owned the Metcalfe Valley Winery and have a close friendship with the new owners of that winery, and with winemakers from both Macedon Ranges and Heathcote regions. They farmed at Harcourt in the early 1970s where Marilyn planted lots of vegetables and fruits which all grew well. “We realised that we could not consume all we were growing, so we set up a ‘Pick your own vegies’ operation which worked well,” she says.
Wine and food have always been an integral part of John’s life. “My father had a huge cellar of about two hundred and fifty dozen bottles of red wine. He drove all over Australia collecting them. As a young man I had the opportunity to learn about wine in the very best way, by tasting and comparing different varieties. My mother was a fantastic cook although she did not drink red wine.”
Marilyn was most impressed with the freezer that John’s mother had in the 1960s and she enjoyed the benefits of both the wine and good food. “John’s mother had an enormous freezer long before it was trendy to do so. She was passionate about food, and it was a great education for all the family.”
Before becoming winemakers, Marilyn led what she describes as a ‘sane life’ working in a bank, and then as a teacher. “Looking back, it’s amazing how rapidly women’s working conditions have changed. When I worked in a bank we were required to wear a hat, gloves, and very conservative clothing when travelling on public transport. Breaching this would lead to a reprimand from management. When I married John, I had to resign as a teacher, and then reapply for a temporary teaching position.”
Marilyn specialised in literacy studies, especially early literacy. This included study in New Zealand and several stays in the US. She worked with teachers and schools on literacy and early intervention for students with reading and writing difficulties. She currently works for the Department of Education with teachers in the early intervention literacy program, Reading Recovery.
Both John and Marilyn have worked off-farm throughout their child raising and farming activities. John retired at the end of 2009 and Marilyn has now reduced her off-farm work to two days a week. With twenty four acres of vines, three acres of olives, six hundred acres of pastures, and two hundred acres of bushland to maintain and develop, they are both kept busy. They also keep a watchful eye on the newly planted ‘Baynton Sidonia Landcare’ native garden planted on the Burke & Wills Track outside their property.
“We moved to Glenhope from Metcalfe for several reasons. We love the panoramic views across the McHarg Ranges, and the established garden. The mix of olives and grapes in a larger property provides a great opportunity to expand our farming interests. Working off-farm for fewer days will give us time to explore more business opportunities,” says Marilyn.
John left school after Year 11 to become a motor mechanic. He combined that job with selling cars and racing catamarans at Lake Eppalock on the weekend. “Those jobs taught me a lot about dealing with people. I decided in 1974 that dealing with people was what I wanted to do. I got a job at the Malmsbury Youth Training Centre. They offered me a scholarship to do a Social Work degree, so it was back to study for me for four years, and back to full time teaching for Marilyn.” John has since specialised in social work, most recently working as manager for Windarring in Kyneton.
In the early 1990s they planted vines at their Metcalfe property. The first grapes were sold to Vincorp. “In 1999 we made our first wine after encouragement from Alan Stevens who then owned Zigzag Wines. ‘You really must make some of your own wine, I’ll loan you a barrel,’ he told us. This first wine won us some awards at both Daylesford and Macedon Ranges wine shows.
“We discovered that winning awards can lead to unexpected consequences. That first barrel produced a small number of bottles, yet we had orders for many dozens as a result of winning the award. There are some award watchers who seem to think that award winners will have plenty of wine to give away to worthy causes. It’s great to have your efforts rewarded, and we’ve had to learn to manage those unexpected consequences,” says John.
Alan Stevens offered Marilyn some good advice on working in a vineyard. “He told us that vineyard work differs from most work where you are encouraged to look to the future, not to the past. But, in the vineyard, you should look back and acknowledge what you’ve already done, rather than look forward to how much is left to do. I find it useful to keep this in mind when I am starting on the 20,000 vines that need pruning.”
John and Marilyn both speak highly of the winemaking courses run by Bendigo TAFE. “Mal Stewart at BRIT set up a magnificent winery in the centre of Bendigo to make wine for smaller vineyards. He gave great assistance to winemakers and conducted practical and useful courses in winemaking. We now make all our own red and white wines, except for the final processes of the sparkling wines. They are very power-intensive and Glenhope does not have the necessary electricity infrastructure.”
Marilyn has been involved with the Macedon Ranges Budburst Festival for several years. She invites other wineries to make Rowanston a local ‘hub’ for visitors. “Visitors to Rowanston during Budburst can enjoy wines from several producers, along with substantial food and music. Many visitors comment that they prefer to be able to explore the wines of several makers in one location, rather than visit individual wineries. We have recently opened our three bedroom farm cottage as a bed and breakfast.”
Situated in the gardens, right next to the vineyard, Rowanston’s Farm House has three bedrooms, a lounge and kitchen.
On the last Saturday in January, Rowanston hosts an annual ‘Shakespeare in the Vine’production with the Essential Theatre Company which specialises in vineyard performances. The garden setting is beautiful and the weather has been good three years in a row. Most of the eight performers play multiple roles and manage rapid costume changes behind trees. They have no scenery, minimal props, no sound amplification, no special effects, yet there is no problem in following the storyline. It is a great display of fine actors demonstrating their craft. The performance ends as the sun sets. Marilyn and John and their team provide a tasty selection of local food in a ‘tuckerbag’as part of the ticket price. In 2012 the company will perform Shakespeare’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’
Rowanston has recently entered into a partnership with an American company in Oregon to sell Rowanston wines under a ‘Sweet Cheeks Down Under’ label. When asked about other ways of building up the wine businesses of our regions, John says, “there’s a tendency for makers of wines to assume that customers care deeply about where the wine they like is grown. Many of our customers know what they like and seek it out, regardless of which wine region it comes from. We need to encourage visitors to come to Central Victoria and explore all its wine regions.
“I think it’s important to provide a pleasurable wine experience without encouraging excessive consumption. Visits to wineries should be about seeking education about wine, tasting new varieties, developing your palate. It should be about enjoyment and education, not about intoxication. Fortunately we’ve had few problems at the cellar door. We always supply food to go with the wine.”
Cellar Door opening hours:
Thursday – Sunday 9am – 5pm