Peter and Tracie Young purchased a property on the ridgetop and east-facing slopes of the Mt Camel range in 2008. The previous owner had planted shiraz vines in 1999. Peter and Tracie added more shiraz in 2009 and a small quantity of viognier in 2010, giving them a total of five acres of vines. The vineyard’s name comes from the Silver Spoon fault line that traverses the property. There are many old silver mines running along the fault line at the base of the Mt Camel ranges, including two decommissioned mines on their land.
Peter’s introduction to wine was during a backpacking trip through Europe in his early 20s. “Through an unusual set of circumstances, a friend and I were invited to stay at a Chateau in France. The Compte had an impressive cellar, but also a heart condition. He had been ordered by his doctor not to drink alcohol. At our evening meal a bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, arguably the world’s most prestigious wine, was produced. My friend and I had the unenviable job of drinking the whole bottle! This unforgettable experience kindled my evolving interest in wine. I also have a sister-in-law whose family owns Chateau Laurent in Burgundy.”
A qualified geologist, Peter first worked in coal exploration in the Hunter Valley of NSW. Working and living in the Hunter wine region introduced him to the wine industry. He then moved into the computer industry, spending seventeen years with IBM in engineering, sales, and management roles. During these years he completed an MBA, including a final year at the International Management Institute in Geneva, Switzerland.
After IBM, Peter worked in software development, focusing on health and community services. He is currently completing a Masters in Wine Technology and Viticulture at the University of Melbourne. Part of his Master’s study is a research project on the use of different types of mulches to improve water conservation in non-irrigated vineyards.
Tracie has a background in administration and real estate. In her early working years she was a professional dancer. She later spent five years working in sales and marketing in the retirement living industry, which provided the motivation to prepare for their own retirement.
“Working in the retirement industry,” says Tracie, “stimulated many discussions around what we wanted to do in our own retirement. In 2008, Peter gave me a surprise Christmas present of a ‘vineyard for sale’ brochure in the Heathcote region. Much to his surprise, I took the bait. We agreed that we would spend our future together creating something unique, something to work at during our ‘retirement.’ Silver Spoon Estate is an opportunity to use our creativity, sales and marketing experience, and love of fine wine, to help see us through the next phase of our lives.”
“We have embarked on a fifteen-year plan to create a boutique wine business,” says Peter. “The vineyard, winery, and branding will be integrated into a wine that expresses the unique character of our grape varieties, climate and soil. Our viticultural philosophy is to promote the health of the soil by encouraging beneficial soil bacteria and fungi, which reduces the need for chemical additives and cultivation.
“Heathcote is blessed with the ideal climate and soil for growing Rhone style varieties, such as shiraz and viognier. The deep clay soils, originating from the Cambrian volcanic rocks on our property, have excellent drainage. The ability to retain tiny droplets of water through the electrostatic properties of the soil particles provides water retention capability that supports unirrigated viticulture.
“Our biggest challenge so far was being totally unaware how hard it would be to plant 3,000 vines over two consecutive weekends. That’s what we attempted to do in September 2009. Fortunately, we had an amazing small group of family and friends who helped us to meet such a tight, unrealistic timeframe. Weather extremes are another challenge. Managing the wettest season on record on top of years of drought has been a steep learning curve.”
Peter has good advice for anyone considering a move into wine production. “The key issue, just like in real estate, is location, location, location. “You need the right aspect, good soil, and grape varieties that work best in the region. Your buyers will have the same interest. If you want to make your winery open to the public, then it should be easily accessible from main roads, not twenty kilometres up a dirt track.”
“Do your homework on your business plan before you start, then add fifty percent to your cost estimates, just to be safe. Everything takes time and money: council approvals; setbacks due to weather; availability of skilled labour; getting the vines to the wire; and maturing the wine. It helps to have formal qualifications. Doing a course will accelerate your learning and put you in contact with people who can help you along the way. Build relationships in your local area. Be humble and ask for advice, and be willing to help others. Be prepared to work hard. There is nothing like pruning 3,000 one-year old vines on your haunches to get the buttocks taut. Finally, keep your sense of humour. You will need it!”
“We’re also environmentally conscious. Silver Spoon Estate operates a solar powered winery. The solar cells and batteries manage the lighting, water pump and other appliances. A petrol generator is used for operating the cellar pump, crusher / destemmer, and Tracie’s hair dryer. The winery has solar power connected to a thermostat controlled heating and cooling system. During summer, air is circulated through two hundred metres of piping, one metre beneath the concrete slab. The solar panels warm up during sunny winter days and circulate warm fresh air into the winery when it is closed.”
“The Heathcote wine region has much to offer visitors. It has a growing global reputation for high quality wine, is less than an hour and a half from the centre of Melbourne, just over an hour from Tullamarine airport. As a tourism destination we think it is currently underdeveloped. This means there are many opportunities for new people to come in, with new ideas and capital, and help build a thriving wine region over the coming years.”
“The most enjoyable part of being a winemaker and grower is to see other people enjoying the wine that you have made, to be part of the ‘orchestra’ of climate, soil, vines, and time, working in harmony to produce something that creates a special experience for others. We admire the creativity and artisanship of other Heathcote wine growers and we hope to learn from them. Above all else, there is something inherently satisfying about drinking your own wine.”