Ian Hopkins rang his son Daniel in 2003 and told him “I’ve bought a paddock in Heathcote.” Daniel was a little surprised. “It was a bit out of left field. Dad is a typical engineer, methodical, logical, disciplined, not usually spontaneous. He saw the block and fell in love with it.” That paddock is now Tellurian Wines. Tellurian means ‘of the earth ’. Thirteen acres of shiraz were planted in 2003, with another ten acres in 2006.
Ian’s choice of Heathcote to indulge his passion for shiraz was less of a surprise. “Dad is a lifetime wine enthusiast,” says Daniel. “He’s very partial to Heathcote shiraz and had been buying wine from Ron Laughton for close to thirty years.”
Ian’s day job is Chief Executive of Norman Disney & Young, a leading firm of consulting engineers with offices in most Australian states, New Zealand, London, Manchester, Dubai, and Kuala Lumpur. He joined Norman Disney & Young in Sydney in 1976, moving to its ten person Melbourne office in 1979. By 1991, he was Director in charge of the Melbourne office with 100 people. He became Chief Executive in 1991, responsible to the Board for the overall technical and financial performance of all Norman Disney & Young offices, with a total headcount around six hundred.
For a short time it looked as though Daniel, his second oldest child, would follow in Ian’s engineering footsteps. When Daniel finished school he started an engineering degree. After six months he knew that was not where his passion lay. This led to some interesting discussions with his father about his future. “Dad was keen for me to choose a career path, go to uni, get a degree, and then start building a career. I eventually came to the same conclusion, some twelve years later, but at the time I was more interested in working than in studying,” says Daniel.
“One of my passions was sport, and I was involved in athletics. Through that involvement I managed to get a job with Nike in sports marketing, working on sponsorship contracts for elite sports people, attending events such as the Olympic and Commonwealth Games.
“In 2003 I enrolled in an MBA in the Australian Graduate School of Entrepreneurship at Swinburne University. During the course we explored a number of industries. I focussed on the wine industry in most of my project work. My interest in wine developed as a result of Dad sharing his knowledge and interest in wine, and most importantly, sharing some great wines over the years.
“At the end of the course I was offered a job as Marketing Manager for Domaine Chandon in Yarra Valley. I was commuting from Melbourne to Yarra Valley when our youngest child was born prematurely, spending many months in hospital. I needed to be closer to home as we had two other young children, so I started working in property management for Colonial First State.
“The vineyard at Heathcote was coming along well under the guidance of viticulturalist Tim Brown and winemaker Tobias Ansted. We were moving to the wine production stage and I knew we needed to think about sales and distribution early on. From my studies, as well as experience, I knew the importance of committing the same level of planning into marketing and distribution as we were putting into planning and developing our vineyard and winery.
“I now work full time as General Manager for Tellurian, with a focus on managing sales, marketing and distribution for Tellurian Wines. The most satisfying part of the job is meeting people who have bought our wine, and loved it. We are a relatively small producer so we don’t need to be everywhere. We focus on boutique wine stores and quality restaurants.
“Most people I meet in restaurants and fine wine stores are already knowledgeable about the Heathcote region. Their job requires them to be inquisitive, they like to try new wines, so dealing with them is a very pleasing part of my job. I can knock on doors and generally get a positive response.
“We now have a great team at Tellurian. My father loves the viticultural side of the business. Our viticulturalist Tim Brown ensures that our crop loads are carefully managed on a vine-by-vine basis. Tim and our winemaker, Tobias Ansted, bring us a wealth of knowledge and experience while I work on marketing our wines.”
According to Tobias, he “had no idea what I wanted to do after Year 12. I grew up in a rural area near Canberra, so I knew I did not want a desk job. I did some work experience in a serious wine shop and enjoyed learning about wine. I discovered that I could do a winemaking course and went to Charles Sturt University for 4 years.
“After graduating I spent a couple of years working in wineries, then travelled around overseas working in wineries in Romania, Argentina and France, came home, worked in a new winery at Cowra, went overseas again, then returned home to work at Balgownie in Bendigo. While working at Balgownie I met Ian and started making his wine. I also make wine for Redesdale Estate and a couple of smaller wine producers in Central Victoria.
“I love to make wine for people who are serious about making quality wine, and I could see that Ian was very serious about doing it well. I believe that winemaking is all about the vineyard. The winery has an influence but the quality of the wine starts in the vineyard.
“The winemaker’s job is to balance fruit, tannin, acidity and alcohol and I prefer to work with grapes that are naturally balanced. I believe this is a better approach than trying to make adjustments in the winery. The challenge is to get the balance right before you pick the crop. Sometimes, as in 2011, we face extraordinary challenges due to weather. For the previous ten years we had not had enough rain, followed by too much rain at the wrong time. We had to constantly monitor the vineyard to avoid downey mildew.
“We don’t net our vines. Netting is a big cost. We are not on a bird migration path so we don’t get as much bird damage as those who are under such paths. We still have occasional damage from birds, the little birds can pick a hole in each grape and then the whole bunch rots. Bigger birds peck off the grapes.
“One issue that newcomers to the wine industry face is the length of time between the set-up investment and some cash flow. We made our initial investment in 2003. In 2010 we released our first wine. It is not for those who seek a quick return. Everything is long term. Decisions we make this year impact next year and the following years, everything requires a long term consideration.”
Both Daniel and Tobias have the good fortune to be able to indulge their passion in their work. Would they recommend the wine industry to their children? “If that’s where their passion is, then yes,” says Tobias. “My advice to them will be to find what they enjoy and then find a way to make it pay. But the wine industry is not a good industry for getting rich. There are other rewards that make it worth while. It is a farming activity, the rewards include connection to the land, making something tangible, and providing pleasure to people.”
Daniel’s son is already considering a career in the wine industry. “We recently discussed this,” says Daniel. “His list included taking over the wine business when I get too old, along with vet, zoo keeper and deep sea diver. He’s only six, so that list may change.”
Daniel was involved in a Heathcote Wine Roadshow in 2010, and Tellurian exhibited at the Heathcote Wine and Food Festival for the first time that year. “It was great to see strong and healthy collaboration across the wine producers of the region. We are newcomers to the wine industry, new to the Heathcote region. In my opinion, Heathcote is a very strong and well established wine region. But, outside of Victoria, awareness of the region is not quite as strong. We look forward to playing our part in promoting Heathcote and growing with the region.”
Cellar Door opening hours:
3rd weekend most months between February – November 2014 or by appointment.