A fly­ing start

Tessa Brown and Jeremy Sch­mölzer are at the very be­gin­ning of their own wine ad­ven­ture in Vic­to­ria’s Beech­worth, and lov­ing ev­ery minute of it.

Halliday - - Inside - By DANIEL HONAN

Tessa Brown and Jeremy Sch­mölzer on their own wine ad­ven­ture in Beech­worth.

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LOOK­ING OUT across the nat­u­ral am­phithe­atre of the Thor­ley vine­yard at dusk is a beau­ti­ful scene to be­hold. Here, young vines with dap­pled green and gold leaves sway gen­tly in the fore­ground, lead­ing the eye down the vine rows to­wards the dam that’s re­flect­ing the sun­set. The sun’s dy­ing light scat­ters shades of blue, vi­o­let, mauve, pink and or­ange, and a bound­ary of trees with red leaves to the north dark­ens un­til it merges with the bush­land re­serve be­yond. The dam’s colours mir­ror the sky un­til it too turns black, right be­fore the stars come out.

This vine­yard site, in Vic­to­ria’s Beech­worth, be­longs to Tessa Brown and Jeremy Sch­mölzer, who to­gether make up Vignerons Sch­mölzer and Brown (VSANDB). “When I met Tessa, one of the first things she told me was, ‘I’m a wine­maker and one day I’m go­ing to have my own vine­yard, and I’m go­ing to have pigs and make sausages’,” re­calls Jeremy. “I said, ‘Where do I sign?’”

Tessa hails from sugar cane coun­try in Far North Queens­land, which fos­tered her love of agri­cul­ture and sci­ence. She was in­tro­duced to wine while vis­it­ing her sis­ter in Wagga Wagga when the fam­ily took a daytrip to Ruther­glen. At the time, Tessa’s fa­ther had a fond­ness for for­ti­fieds. “I re­mem­ber go­ing on a winery tour of Cofield Wines, and just thought it was so cool. I guess you could say it in­spired me to study wine­mak­ing and viti­cul­ture,” Tessa says.

She went on to study viti­cul­ture through CSU in Wagga Wagga, be­fore com­plet­ing a grad­u­ate diploma of wine­mak­ing through the Univer­sity of Ade­laide.

Tessa met Jeremy in Mel­bourne be­fore start­ing work at the Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula’s Kooy­ong and Port Phillip Es­tate, where she spent al­most five years on the wine­mak­ing team. Prior to the cou­ple meet­ing, Jeremy, who also works as an ar­chi­tect, ad­mits his knowl­edge of wine was fairly lim­ited. Any vi­sion of one day own­ing a vine­yard – and those pigs ­– was largely founded on ro­man­tic no­tions, even more so af­ter vis­it­ing Tessa fol­low­ing a vin­tage stint ☞

☞ in Cen­tral Otago. “There was lots of par­ty­ing go­ing on, all within this stun­ning en­vi­ron­ment full of snow-capped moun­tains,” Jeremy says. “It was a good time!”

The cou­ple moved to Beech­worth in 2012, drawn by the re­gion’s cli­mate, al­ti­tude and rep­u­ta­tion for great wine, as well as its rel­a­tive af­ford­abil­ity. They were able to buy 20 hectares of land in the foothills of the Aus­tralian Alps, 800m above sea level in the tight-knit town of Stan­ley, just 20 min­utes from the renowned Beech­worth Bak­ery. “When we moved to Beech­worth, I guess, some­what naively, I started to re­alise there was a lot of work to be done, and that wine is a pretty hard thing to do from scratch!” Jeremy says.

BEECH­WORTH’S COOL, con­ti­nen­tal cli­mate has pro­vided a good home for the re­gion’s hero va­ri­eties for decades. The power and pre­ci­sion, weight and tex­ture of Beech­worth chardon­nay is well doc­u­mented, as is the fi­nesse and com­plex­ity of Beech­worth shi­raz, with Gi­a­conda and Castagna two no­table pro­duc­ers of prime ex­am­ples. In the spring of 2014, Tessa and Jeremy be­gan plant­ing two hectares with 10,000 vines at Thor­ley, which is made up mostly of chardon­nay and shi­raz, plus a few rows of ries­ling and neb­bi­olo. “Shi­raz sells well and you could eas­ily sell Beech­worth chardon­nay 10 times over, so the de­ci­sion to plant these two va­ri­eties was fairly straight­for­ward,” Tessa says. “It might seem a bit in­con­gru­ous to have ries­ling and neb­bi­olo planted side by side, but our pinot cut­tings didn’t take at the nurs­ery. Plus, we learned that the site is a lot warmer than we first thought, so, right now, we’re ex­per­i­ment­ing,” she says.

While wait­ing for their vines to reach com­mer­cial age, the cou­ple has been busy build­ing re­la­tion­ships with other grow­ers in and around the re­gion. “In the be­gin­ning, it’s re­ally been about get­ting our foot in the door and try­ing to es­tab­lish our­selves here,” Jeremy

“I’m look­ing for­ward to build­ing a home here and watch­ing our daugh­ter grow up on the farm, spend­ing our days in the vine­yard, mak­ing wine

and just liv­ing life.”

Jeremy Sch­mölzer

ex­plains. “First, we wanted to find grow­ers who had a good rep­u­ta­tion for great qual­ity fruit. And se­condly, we wanted to main­tain a sense of con­ti­nu­ity be­tween the fruit we buy and what’s been planted at Thor­ley.”

For­tu­itously, they found a small vine­yard nearby that was al­ready well es­tab­lished with dry-grown chardon­nay and pinot noir. “We were lucky to find the Brun­nen vine­yard across the road, which hap­pened to be grow­ing the same va­ri­eties we were al­ready think­ing about plant­ing at Thor­ley,” Tessa ex­plains.

The VSANDB 2017 vin­tages of the Brun­nen Chardon­nay and

Pinot Noir are both suit­ably del­i­cate, un­der­stated ex­am­ples of Beech­worth wines. The chardon­nay is pitched some­where be­tween strength and ele­gance, while the pinot evolves from gor­geous­ness to grace with each glass poured.

So far, only the 2017 Shi­raz has been made and re­leased from VSANDB’s Thor­ley vine­yard; a pur­ple-tinted wine with spicy black fruit and vi­o­let florals, with puck­ered tan­nins all vi­brant and ea­ger. The 2018 vin­tage yielded chardon­nay as well as shi­raz from the Thor­ley site, and they are due for re­lease next year.

“I’ve heard other wine­mak­ers say you don’t re­ally know your vine­yard un­til you’ve worked on it for at least 15 years, and so far we’ve only picked two tiny parcels of fruit from our farm,” Tessa says. “But that’s been my great­est source of joy so far – mak­ing wine for our own la­bel with fruit that we’ve grown our­selves. It’s a re­ally amaz­ing feel­ing.”

IT’S STILL EARLY days for Tessa and Jeremy, and their fledg­ling Thor­ley vine­yard and VSANDB brand. While es­tab­lish­ing their vine­yard and new life in the re­gion, they have also started a fam­ily, with daugh­ter Remi turn­ing two in Novem­ber.

There’s a pal­pa­ble sense of ad­ven­ture and pi­o­neer­ing spirit driv­ing them for­ward into the fu­ture. “What­ever hap­pens down the track – say it turns out that ries­ling and neb­bi­olo were the wrong va­ri­eties to plant – is kind of sec­ondary to the sat­is­fac­tion of be­ing the first to do it,” Tessa says.

There’s plenty more to tick off too. “I’m look­ing for­ward to build­ing a home here and watch­ing our daugh­ter grow up on the farm, spend­ing our days in the vine­yard, mak­ing wine and just liv­ing life,” Jeremy says.

Al­though a VSANDB es­tate-grown ries­ling and neb­bi­olo are still a few years off, Tessa and Jeremy are hop­ing they will be bot­tled and ready to drink when the pigs – and sub­se­quent sausages – ar­rive. “So far, we have the vines and have made some wine,” Jeremy says. “Now, we’re just wait­ing on the pigs.” As Tessa adds, “We need to get fences first.”

Tessa Brown and Jeremy Sch­mölzer.

Amid the vines with daugh­ter Remi.

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