Labour of Lover­ing still hang­ing on the vines

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence - James Halliday

GARRY and Gael Lover­ing are Kan­ga­roo Is­land vet­er­ans. Gael, a rel­a­tive new­comer, ar­rived in 1954 while Garry’s grand­fa­ther, armed with an axe, opened up vir­gin for­est in the early 1900s. They de­scribe them­selves as mixed farm­ers, with sheep, cat­tle and 200ha of ce­real crop on their 1000ha South Aus­tralian prop­erty.

In 1998, helped only by viti­cul­tur­ist Di David­son’s book AGuidetoGrow­ing Wine­grapesinAus­tralia , they be­gan prepa­ra­tions for a small vine­yard, rip­ping the plant­ing lines and work­ing in lay­ers of fer­tiliser, gyp­sum and lime. The best part of a year was spent pre­par­ing the soil be­fore plant­ing 1.8ha of vines.

As there was lit­tle his­tory on the is­land to guide them, they adopted a shot­gun approach, with caber­net sauvi­gnon, petit ver­dot, mer­lot, ries­ling and shi­raz, adding san­giovese in 2000.

They now have 8.4ha, mainly de­voted to caber­net sauvi­gnon (3.6ha) and shi­raz (1.6ha), with small amounts of tem­pranillo, saper­avi and chardon­nay added to the orig­i­nal mix un­der the Rook­ery la­bel.

‘‘ With­out com­plain­ing, the farm­ing side has been just as dif­fi­cult as start­ing the vine­yard,’’ they say. ‘‘ There has been very lit­tle sur­plus cash flow in this area.’’

For ob­vi­ous rea­sons, they have done the phys­i­cal work alone in es­tab­lish­ing and run­ning the vine­yard.

It was not un­til 2000 that they re­tained viti­cul­tural con­sul­tants Ben Robin­son and David Pax­ton to look at what they had done and give rec­om­men­da­tions for the fu­ture. The Lover­ings do not say so, but my feel­ing is they re­ceived an A rat­ing for their work.

In 2002 and 2003, they sold most of their grapes to South Aus­tralian winer­ies, but the tight­en­ing mar­ket, es­pe­cially for caber­net sauvi­gnon, meant they could no longer rely on sell­ing their grapes to cover their costs, let alone make a profit.

In the ver­nac­u­lar, Garry Lover­ing did not muck around. He com­pleted small wine­maker and ba­sic wine anal­y­sis cour­ses at TAFE while re­tain­ing the ser­vices of Ge­off Weaver as wine­mak­ing con­sul­tant and Pru­dence Hon­ner of Sc­hole­field Robin­son Hor­ti­cul­tural Ser­vices to help with any prob­lems in the vine­yard.

In 2004, half the wines were made on the is­land and half in the Barossa Val­ley, Weaver se­lect­ing the oak and blend­ing the wines for bot­tling. The 2005 wines were made at McLaren Vale un­der Weaver’s ea­gle eye. Hav­ing read his con­sult­ing re­ports, there is no doubt they will be very good wines.

So far, so good. Well, not quite. In suc­cinct terms, Lover­ing notes of the fol­low­ing vin­tages: ‘‘ ’ 06 wines. No caber­net picked be­cause of high stock vol­ume. Shi­raz, petit ver­dot and san­giovese picked. To be bot­tled in next cou­ple of weeks [late May]. ’ 07 wines. No wa­ter, no sub­soil. We, along with other winer­ies, picked no red grapes.’’

Not a hint of com­plaint, and the Lover­ings are per­se­ver­ing with the con­struc­tion of a 50-tonne win­ery for the 2008 vin­tage.

Lover­ing says: ‘‘ The first year I will need to have ei­ther a fully fledged wine stu­dent or wine­maker and I will be the ‘ rat’ [cel­lar hand]. The sec­ond year I would be fully con­fi­dent to go alone, with some­one else as the rat.’’

Why build a win­ery, adding fur­ther cap­i­tal cost? Again, the an­swers are crisp. There are no vi­able con­tract wine­mak­ing fa­cil­i­ties on the is­land; it costs $100 a tonne to send grapes to the main­land for crush­ing; re­turn freight costs $100 a pal­let; skilled con­tract mak­ers with high pro­files are not in­ter­ested in small parcels of un­known wines.

Weaver is adamant Kan­ga­roo Is­land is ideally suited to caber­net sauvi­gnon: it per­forms best in a mar­itime cli­mate; the is­land is warmer than Coon­awarra and cooler than Mar­garet River; and the mar­itime in­flu­ence (and heat sum­ma­tion) is sim­i­lar to Bordeaux. One taste of the Rook­ery wines will tell you why he has such faith.

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