Planted together, a product of love
HOW can two people with such different backgrounds meet and make their life together, as have Sabine Deisen and Les Fensom? Deisen’s account is so lyrical and poetic that their odyssey becomes even more wondrous.
Fensom was an electrician and builder living in the outback for several years, supervising the building of bridges and culverts on the Stuart Highway. This was where he met Deisen more than 20 years ago.
After that he helped build the greens at the Tanunda golf course in South Australia’s Barossa Valley.
So when the wine boom took hold, it was a natural move to build vineyards and design and install irrigation systems.
Deisen was born in Dusseldorf, Germany, her father a musician, her mother an opera singer. In 1964 they immigrated to Australia. ‘‘ Both my parents were at the peak of their careers yet disenchanted that their lives had become so driven, so far away from nature, soil and time with their kids,’’ Deisen says.
After two years in Adelaide they bought a tiny strip of land at McLaren Flat, renting a house in nearby Blewitt Springs.
‘‘ The block had everything: shiraz, currants, quinces, prunes and apricots. My mother was in her element, finally living with the land, while my father thrived on his balance between the tractor work and still playing music,’’ Deisen says. ‘‘ In all this we took a giant step back financially, but I never forget my sense of wealth and prosperity living in what seemed like God’s garden.’’
When Deisen was 14, her parents bought a 32ha property on the western side of the Barossa, half planted with old vines, half a dairy farm. Two hectares of trees and shrubs were planted around the house but, in 1985, unable to sell the shiraz and grenache from the 80-year-old vines, Deisen’s mother followed others at the time and pulled out the vines. Part of the land was devoted to an orchard and groves of olives and almonds.
Deisen had been an artist (with a bent for landscape design) for 15 years before the family made the decision in 1997 to replant the vines, leaving the natural features that Deisen had landscaped, with tiny blocks between areas of garden, forest and hedges.
Notwithstanding that Fensom was still working full time elsewhere, they did all the work themselves. ‘‘ A bottle of wine accompanied most evenings. I recall parking our glasses on top of the posts as we worked our way down the row and back,’’ Deisen says.
They now have 10ha of vines, mainly shiraz, with 1.6ha of grenache and 1ha of mourvedre, or mataro as it is still doggedly, albeit incorrectly, called in the Barossa. There’s room for some more mourvedre and a couple of rows of riesling. (‘‘I love to drink it, even though we only sell a few dozen,’’ Deisen says.)
As planned, some of the shiraz is sold to Rockford and John Duval (discriminating buyers, if ever there were) but part of the harvest goes to making the Deisen wines.
What was not intended was that the couple should become self-taught, book-in-hand winemakers. (Fensom did a course at Regency TAFE.) All the batches are very small, down to 20 dozen, and this is the way it will remain.
Deisen has the last word: ‘‘ For Les it’s a sense of achievement; for me it’s my love for the aesthetic that rewards me, not just in the finished product but in the whole process of making it.
‘‘ I love the stillness in the air while watching the last of the free-run wine drain out of the press in a pink and red swirl; or the heavenly scent of fermenting grenache when you walk past the open vats at night. I wanted to make truly beautiful wines, handcrafting them, hand-labelling them with a bunch of happy ladies who enjoy the work, working in the barrel shed with the afternoon sun streaming through a small window, touching the round bellies with gold.
‘‘ All this takes time. To do things with love takes time.’’