May 16, 2017

The journey so far.

I started working in vineyards in 1997, when I was 22. Leaving the late-night bar & restaurant life I was living in the city.

After a year or so, my parents moved ‘Down South’ too. They wanted to start making wine from a vineyard they had bought. Initially, I started in the vineyard with them. Followed by grunt work for the consultant winemaker up at the shed. The whole process intrigued me so I decided to start studying.

6 years later I was pushing 30, and a qualified winemaker. The winery had grown and I had grown with it. Being a family winery I had done every job there was to do. In the vineyard, winery and bottling, but also cellar door sales & market visits. I remember loading my car with wine every couple of weeks and driving 3 hours to the city to try and sell it.

A girl walks into a bar.

While I was studying I was also moonlighting in a local bar for extra cash. I was saving for a deposit on a house when one night a pretty girl walked in.

Naomi was travelling and working between the surf breaks of Europe and Margaret River, with the occasional snow-season chucked in. She certainly wasn’t ready to settle down. But I persisted (sorry, babe). We reached a happy medium of basing ourselves in Margaret River while planning as many escapes as possible.

Selling the farm.

One day in 2005 Dad told me that he had sold the family winery. I was to be retained by the new owner as general manager/head winemaker and life was to go on as usual.

But, instead of going the safe route and cruising along, I sold the house I had managed to finance and bought a vineyard (madness, even then). That meant Naomi and I had to rent, as the vineyard didn’t have a house. I stayed on for about 18 months in the new job. We then packed our bags and headed to Europe.

Van Life

I took on an export sales job in Europe. This was the last piece of the puzzle. I met a lot of great people and gained a much more global view on wine than I had gained staying in Margaret River.

Meanwhile, our vineyard back home in Margaret River was slowly going through organic conversion, the grape sales paying for this.

Once again we left our jobs to follow a dream. Naomi and I bought an old builder's van in Brighton, UK, and spent the next 5 months or so travelling to every surf break and wine region in Western Europe.

There was a lot of surfing, eating, drinking, learning and a lot of navel gazing. It really opened up what wine making could be, and got us seeing the amazing potential of more natural processes.

The end of the world.

One day, in some coastal town South of Lisbon I found an English newspaper - a rare treat. The headline was “THE END OF THE WORLD”.

It was the start of the GFC. World economies were tanking & banks were closing. We were living off 15 euros a day, living by the coast and blissfully unaware.

We travelled for a few more months and hit the Algerian border south of Morocco before we turned the van around and started the journey home.

We were full of inspiration and energy and ready for the next chapter. So, we decided to move in feet first...

Starting a winery at the lowest point in the history of the Australian wine industry.

We arrived back home in the Summer of 08/09 and started to put our grand plan into action: making wine with little outside influence, living off the land…

But we had no money, no jobs and no house. The GFC was still affecting the economies of the world, and the Australian wine industry was on its knees.

The banks weren’t willing to lend us any money for a wine project, especially styles that no-one understood to a market where no-one was buying.

So we did what any self-respecting dreamers would do - we lied.

Using the equity from the vineyard we borrowed to build a small house, and, ahem, “land improvements”.

While the house was being built, Naomi and I rented and got jobs in local wineries. We made a modest amount of red wine and sparkling in our first vintage, knowing it would be 12 months before we could release it.

Then Naomi fell pregnant. Not the best timing, but if you want to listen to the music, eventually the rhythm will get you. 

So before we sold a single bottle of Blind Corner, we had another mouth to feed, a mortgage, and Naomi was out of work.

How to make a small fortune in the wine industry: start with a large one.

There's a big problem with starting a winery with little money. It can take up to 3 years to get your investment back from a crop. For example, you prune in July, harvest the next March, bottle in March a year later and sell that over the following 12 months. So, before you get any money from one vintage, you are paying for the next. Not great for cash flow, especially when you're buying nappies like they're the latest fashion craze.

Not to be swayed, and determined to provide for our growing family, I continued working as a cellar-hand while getting the wines together. Eventually, I started driving to Perth on days off to show restaurants our Blind Corner wines, which were finally in bottle.

Tipping Point

We got to the point before Christmas 2010 where we were at a crossroads. The business would not survive without me going full time, but could not afford to pay me. So, to test the waters, I moved to part time in my day job. Within 4 weeks of that, I quit altogether.

The focus and dedication paid off. The business started to pay a modest wage to me by Feb of 2011 - enough to cover the mortgage and added luxuries like food.

We were living the dream. Working for ourselves, living on a vineyard, and selling enough wine to cover the bills.

The Quickening

By March of 2011, things started to really heat up.

We were named in Gourmet Traveller wine ‘Best of the Best for 2011’, numerous blogs were raving about us, the Weekend Australian did a write up about the winery, and the positive reviews kept coming in. We were humbled and excited and could hardly believe it.

Yet, our little vineyard could only produce so much wine, so we sought out an extra vineyard and signed the papers for expansion. We now have two locations using organic, biodynamic growing practices to fuel the juice line of Blind Corner. The original vineyard is fully certified, while the newer one is certified in conversion will be all the way by Christmas this year

The bigger space has also allowed us to plant a solid veggie patch, install nine natural beehives and acquire a bunch of chooks to scratch the bugs and weeds and keep us in bum nuts. If things crash and burn, we'll be able to survive off of vegetable omelettes drizzled in honey, and more grapes than even our two boys could possibly eat. 

We are still chasing our organic and one-or-none additive goal for all of our wines. We attempt to improve our wines every year, trialling different methods and techniques to coax as much as we can out of the grapes. We even have our own bottling plant on site now too,  giving us more control over the process, so we make the wine we want to share - all from grape to glass.

Apart from that who knows where else this adventure will take us.

Hopefully you can be a part of it.

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Give me the juice!