Tak­ing the hard road to an easy life

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - James Halliday

WHEN Greg Flynn got his first part-time job 22 years ago as a bot­tle shop at­ten­dant in a coun­try pub, he was told: ‘‘ Here are the beer fridges and there are the wine fridges. The moselle is sweet and the ries­ling is dry.’’ It was to set a re­cur­ring theme: for the fol­low­ing 14 years he worked in bars, bot­tle shops and as a sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive for var­i­ous wine com­pa­nies.

He in­ter­spersed this with work in a bank and in graphic de­sign, ex­pe­ri­ences that came to­gether when he and wife, Natala, em­barked on a sea change in 1999. They sold their house, gave up se­cure, well-paid, full-time jobs (Natala as charge nurse of a car­diac unit) and in­vested their life sav­ings in a prop­erty they found at Heath­cote, Vic­to­ria, af­ter an 18-month search.

They did ev­ery­thing them­selves. First came the build­ing of a tool­shed cum barn win­ery, then the driv­ing in of 2500 trel­lis posts with a ram­mer bor­rowed from Flynn’s un­cle. It was at this point his five years of weight train­ing be­fore his change of lifestyle paid div­i­dends. Next came 60km of tight­ened trel­lis wire and ir­ri­ga­tion line and the thou­sands of holes dug for each vine when the time came for plant­ing. ‘‘ Then the real work started,’’ he says.

They planted 4ha, half of it mul­ti­clone shi­raz, 0.4ha each of caber­net sauvi­gnon, mer­lot and verdelho, and 0.8ha of san­giovese. The last was prompted by Flynn’s lik­ing of the va­ri­etal and ‘‘ we planted it be­fore its pop­u­lar­ity took off’’.

Al­most as an af­ter­thought, he adds that be­fore start­ing the ven­ture he com­pleted a diploma of wine mar­ket­ing at Rose­wor­thy and he and Natala stud­ied wine­mak­ing at Bendigo TAFE. From day one they have shared the work, mon­i­tor­ing the vine­yard daily through­out the grow­ing sea­son, hav­ing hand-pruned each vine to a bud count ap­pro­pri­ate to the size and health of the vine. They use min­i­mal sprays and con­tin­u­ously hand-mulch the vines.

For years they ran the vine­yard ‘‘ on the smell of an oily rag, planned, pri­ori­tised and bud­geted’’. Now, af­ter eight years, the busi­ness is sup­port­ing them and a part-time vine­yard worker. A lit­tle more than a month ago, they opened the Heath­cotean Bistro in a sep­a­rate part of the win­ery which sup­ports two more part-time em­ploy­ees.

Their aim is to con­tin­u­ously im­prove the qual­ity of their wines and lift an­nual sales with higher prices and greater vol­umes (at present 1800 cases). ‘‘ This would al­low us to in­vest more into the vine­yard and take some wine­tast­ing trips over­seas,’’ Flynn says. ‘‘ We would also like to achieve a strong [brand] im­age and suc­cess­ful busi­ness for our daugh­ter to take over one day, so that I can re­tire to a rock­ing chair on the pa­tio.’’

Many have shared such dreams; only a few have suc­ceeded. Hav­ing tasted the wines the Flynns made in 2004 and 2005 I have ev­ery rea­son to sup­pose they will be­come among the few. They aim to pick the grapes when they are ripe, but not over­ripe; not to over-oak the wines; and en­deav­our to re­tain some el­e­gance.

Their sec­ond la­bel, Lewis Road, opens the way for Heath­cote-based wines sell­ing for less than $20. The grapes are pur­chased from a vine­yard in the north Heath­cote area and are only a whisker be­hind the es­tate wines. The in­ten­tion was to make a shi­raz viog­nier. The 2005 (91 points, $19.90) has abun­dant black­berry, spice and licorice flavours, the 5 per cent viog­nier not too as­sertive. In 2005 they also made a Lewis Road Shi­raz (93 points, $19.90) with sim­i­lar weight to the shi­raz viog­nier, the fruit slightly more savoury and spicy. Long, fine tan­nins give the wine out­stand­ing struc­ture, firm but with­out hard­ness or bit­ter­ness.

All my tast­ing notes do for the five red wines avail­able at cel­lar door at present is add clothes to the per­fectly pro­por­tioned bod­ies of the wines. The Flynns may be new­com­ers but they ob­vi­ously have an in­nate feel for their wines and the abil­ity to turn feel­ing into re­al­ity. Most as­suredly a win­ery to watch.

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