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