Lazy by name, not by na­ture

When a diesel me­chan­i­cal su­per­vi­sor and a grief ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cer de­cided to set­tle on a life­style prop­erty out­side Mudgee, lit­tle did they know that it would change their life.

Dubbo Photo News - - Contents. - WORDS Natalie Holmes

PAULA Han­son and David Ri­ley thought they were buy­ing a life­style prop­erty where they could raise a fam­ily to­gether when they bought a pocket of land in the pic­turesque Mudgee hills.

“We pur­chased 50 acres in 2011, 15kms out of Mudgee in Eu­run­deree,” Paula ex­plained.

“Our ini­tial in­ten­tions were to build our dream home on the site.

“Our mis­sion was to find the per­fect place to build our dream home, get mar­ried and raise our chil­dren. It was just a beau­ti­ful place to call home.”

But the lure of one of the finest wine­mak­ing re­gions in Aus­tralia and their 10 acre vine­yard was too much for the cou­ple and five years af­ter mov­ing in, they were not only mak­ing wine, but win­ning awards for it.

“It was a lot of land and we knew noth­ing about wine other than we didn't mind a good drop!” Paula laughed.

Ini­tially, the cou­ple was able to just set­tle in and not worry too much about main­tain­ing the vine­yard.

“We were for­tu­nate enough in the first three years to have an agree­ment with our neigh­bour to main­tain the vine­yard in ex­change for the fruit – mak­ing our life very lazy.”

For Paula and David, it was a great deal. They got their beau­ti­ful block and some­one else did the work for them. In that time, they started their fam­ily and wel­comed two chil­dren, Grace and Henry into the world.

“Al­though we had two years to get our­selves pre­pared for tak­ing over, the time went re­ally quickly. We did pro­duce two beau­ti­ful chil­dren in those years – but we were still leisurely build­ing a shed with the view to then build our home. We had done noth­ing in prepa­ra­tion for tak­ing over a vine­yard.”

That all changed last year, when the pair de­cided to jump into the wine­mak-

ing business, boots and all.

“In 2015, we de­cided to give it a go and main­tain the vine­yard our­selves and make our first wine. With no ex­pe­ri­ence at all!”

The pre­vi­ous year had been a wipe­out in the in­dus­try and their neigh­bourly ar­range­ment was sud­denly no longer vi­able.

“Our neigh­bour had of­fered to take it on for an­other year… but it was the year that broke the camel’s back. Low rain­fall re­sulted in very low yields and it just wasn't a fi­nan­cially fair ar­range­ment any­more.”

The novice vi­gnerons came to a cross­roads and pon­dered whether to con­tinue their vine­yard or go the way of many of their sur­round­ing coun­ter­parts.

They didn’t know whether to pull the vines out, let them grow wild or at­tempt the unat­tempt­able.

“So what do we do? Let it go to ruin, pull it out, put sheep on it? Be­ing a veg­e­tar­ian, I know less about sheep than I do wine!

“The out­look for the wine in­dus­try looked bleak.”

When they had pur­chased the prop­erty, the hills be­hind them were cov­ered in vines for as far as they could see. But hectares of vines were re­moved vir­tu­ally overnight.

“These pad­docks are now home to cat­tle,” Paula says sadly.

“Each trip into Mudgee shows the signs of yet an­other vine­yard ei­ther be­ing pulled out or left for ruin. I didn't want to see our vine­yard end up like this.”

De­spite the warn­ing sig­nals, the cou­ple pushed on, tak­ing over main­te­nance of their own vines and pro­duc­ing their first har­vest last year. Af­ter pick­ing, their fruit is sent to a lo­cal wine­maker for the fi­nal process.

“Our lazi­ness came to an end and Lazy Oak Vine­yard was born,” Paula said.

“We have left the mak­ing to the lo­cal ex­perts so far but it is our ambition to learn, with the ul­ti­mate goal of pro­duc­ing it all on-site to­gether as a fam­ily.”

While they had named their vine­yard af­ter the sin­gle oak tree on the prop­erty and with dreams of lazy days in the Mudgee sun­shine, their ven­ture turned out to be a busier life­style than orig­i­nally planned – but in­fin­itely more rewarding.

“We have a lone oak tree on our prop­erty and over a few vinos try­ing to dis­cuss names with fam­ily and friends we de­cided that Lonely Oak wasn't a great name - a great wine should be shared – not drank alone. So we set­tled on Lazy Oak, as we knew our lazi­ness was about to come to an end!”

As it turns out, hav­ing a vine­yard on their prop­erty has turned out to be a lit­tle more time-con­sum­ing than an­tic­i­pated.

“It is not a lazy ex­er­cise. There’s al-

ways some­thing to be done. Prun­ing, spray­ing, slash­ing, business reg­is­tra­tion, ob­tain­ing a liquor li­cense and start­ing up a web­site.”

With two preschool aged chil­dren at home, a part time job and a part­ner work­ing shift work, there hasn't been a lot of time for laz­ing lately. Thank­fully, the cou­ple has re­li­able rel­a­tives who lend a hand – so Lazy Oak re­ally has be­come a fam­ily af­fair.

Re­flect­ing on their ex­pe­ri­ences over the past year, Paula ad­mit­ted that there’s been both tears and triumphs.

“Fol­low­ing my first har­vest I’ve learnt that there’s cater­pil­lars, spi­ders, blood, sweat, tears, per­haps a lit­tle too much testos­terone… oh and some grapes!”

There’s been a lot for the fam­ily to deal with, in­clud­ing neg­a­tiv­ity from other wine grow­ers, be­ing at the mercy of the weather gods, gov­ern­ment taxes and get­ting into an in­dus­try when other more es­tab­lished vine­yards are leav­ing.

“Run­ning a vine­yard is iron­i­cally a sober­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” Paula ad­mits. “It's a gamble, its farm­ing at its finest. “I never had an in­ter­est in rain­fall and weather pre­dic­tions un­til this year, beg­ging for rain turns into sleep­less nights wait­ing to hear if the pre­dicted hail is go­ing to hit or if we are go­ing to get too much rain too close to har­vest.”

And then there was the de­ci­sion to run a bou­tique business rather than a big­ger en­ter­prise. David and Paula also chose to har­vest their fruit rather than waste it.

“When a big com­pany gives you ad­vice to leave your fruit on the vines rather than sell it for a lower price be­cause its af­fect­ing the in­dus­try, it gives a bit­ter taste when they then turn around and of­fer you vine­gar prices for your pre­mium fruit.

“Un­for­tu­nately, I am not in a po­si­tion to cut my nose off to spite my face, and I se­cretly won­der how nice it must be at the top.”

The Aus­tralian Gov­ern­ment’s Wine Equal­iza­tion Tax was also dif­fi­cult for the pair to un­der­stand and seemed un­fair.

“For all the gov­ern­ment’s at­tempts in ad­ver­tis­ing to cull binge drink­ing, this tax hits the wrong end of the mar­ket. Pre­mium wines are highly taxed and cheaper com­mer­cial wines at­tract just a por­tion.”

As well, it took a long time to get an­other as­pect of the vine­yard es­tab­lished, with the cou­ple wait­ing al­most a year to fi­nalise their liquor li­cence.

For all the hic­cups, there have been many positive ex­pe­ri­ences dur­ing their early days in the in­dus­try.

“Our first vin­tage from har­vest to bot­tle has been noth­ing short of in­ter­est­ing, frus­trat­ing and a fun ex­pe­ri­ence,” Paula said.

“We man­aged to tread wa­ter and stay afloat this year. Record yields of qual­ity fruit have ex­cited the palate of our wine mak­ers. And the learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence has been a re­fresh­ing re­prieve from the stay at home Mum con­ver­sa­tions!”

Then ev­ery­thing else paled into in­signif­i­cance when David and Paula walked away with a Bronze Medal at this year’s Mudgee Wine Show for their White Mer­lot, a dry yet re­fresh­ing rose made from the Mer­lot grape. It was an in­cred­i­bly proud mo­ment for them which has in­spired them to con­tinue with their ven­ture.

“We are ex­cited to have some bril­liant wine in pro­duc­tion at the mo­ment,” Paula said.

“While every­one is jump­ing out, we are jump­ing in. Un­like sheep, we don't want to fol­low.”

The pair have taken a few risks in wine­mak­ing but have a vi­sion is to bring unique va­ri­ety and flavours to­gether. Their time so far has been a mixed bag of emo­tions. “A lot of hard work, mis­spent fam­ily time, beg­ging of friends and fam­ily for help, an­noy­ing your neigh­bour with a mil­lion ques­tions, but the end re­sult is in­cred­i­ble sat­is­fac­tion that we made it through the first year.”

“We are happy to an­nounce we are of­fi­cially in business and have many plans for the fu­ture.”

Lazy Oak Vine­yard is lo­cated at Eu­run­deree just out­side Mudgee. Sales are via pri­vate wine tastings and vir­tual cel­lar door. For more in­for­ma­tion, please visit www.lazyoak.com or phone Paula on 0419 698 816.

Paula Han­son PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

David and Paula walked away with a Bronze Medal at this year’s Mudgee Wine Show for their White Mer­lot

Lazy Oak Vine­yard own­ers Paula Han­son and David Ri­ley.

Paula Han­son: “Run­ning a vine­yard is iron­i­cally a sober­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.”

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