Taking the hard road to an easy life
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.