Mixing milk and wine

By Dairy News

Barry and Bernadette Wurlod’s farm south of Terang makes milk for breakfast and will soon make wine to have with dinner.

The dairy part of the farm is leased but Barry and Bernadette have been tinkering with a vineyard for the past 12 years and are now getting ready to go commercial.

The fertile land on the edge of a crater is well suited to both pursuits and the enterprises have blended together and developed successfully in their own right.

The dairy farm was established in 1963 by Barry’s parents and he worked on the farm after leaving school. Barry and Bernadette married in 1979 and had three children and continued farming until about 15 years ago.

“When we were in our mid-40s we decided we were ready for a change,” Barry said.

None of their children wanted to become dairy farmers. “That was one of the reasons we stopped dairying when we did,” Barry said.

“We were at a stage where we had a big operation and there was no real need to continue the way we were.”

Barry moved into fitness training as assistant manager and personal trainer at Terang’s fitness centre and Bernadette worked in health.

However, their decision to leave dairy didn’t mean leaving the land they love.

“We kept the dairy farm and started with a sharefarmer and then moved to leasing the property,” Barry said.

“We wanted to stay here. It’s a family property and while family are interested and still want to live here, the farm will stay with the family.”

The dairy farm surrounding the vineyard is now leased and the two enterprises successfully cohabitate.

Now in their early 60s, Barry and Bernadette aren’t resting on their laurels.

When they built their new home about 12 years ago to take advantage of the views, they retained enough land on a sub-section of the title separate to the dairy just in case they wanted to try something different.

“We have spectacular views and had a vision to capture that,” Bernadette said. “That’s why we kept a bit of land in case there was something else we wanted to do to make the most of it.”

Bernadette decided it would be nice to grow some grape vines. “It was for no other reason than I thought they would look nice,” she said.

“We landscaped the gardens and put the grapevines in.”

The grapes were a success and eventually Barry and Bernadette decided to make wine.

“As with most new wine makers, the early vintages weren’t great, but we continued to get more interested in it so continued to plant more vines,” Barry said.

The dairy farm surrounding the vineyard is now leased and the two enterprises successfully cohabitate.

The trial and error continued until the right blend was found.

“We got to a point where we were making more wine than we could drink so we could either reduce that or expand and we made the decision to plant more vines,” Barry said.

“We’re reasonably happy with the wine we’ve made in the last vintage and we’ll continue to improve.”

An extra 1000 vines will be planted before the end of the year, a significant increase on the existing 500 and moving the enterprise beyond the hobby stage.

They currently produce two varieties — Syrah and Pinot Noir — and hope to open a cellar door next year to sell their own products.

“We found through research, that the soils we’ve got and the drainage is best suited to Pinot Noir,” Barry said.

“We’re on the side of a crater with heavy dark aerated soil.”

The vineyard is named Keayang Maar as the farm is on part of the original Keayang Station land and overlooks a low-lying volcanic crater or maar.

There are plans for a new steel shed that will house machinery, wine processing and a specific cellar door section. Barry and Bernadette are confident they will open next year.

There have been a few small wineries in the region, but not many have lasted.

“A lot of that is probably due to the fact there’s a lot of work involved,” Barry said.

“People look at a vineyard and think it’s fun and interesting but they don’t realise that anything to do with growing something on a rural property takes a lot of work.

“Unless you go in with your eyes open and realise that, it’s probably better not to do it.”

A background in dairy farming has primed Barry and Bernadette for the challenge.

The new venture has piqued the interest of their son and daughter-in-law, who have returned home to the farm, to help out on the vineyard.

The entire property covers nearly 200ha. The dairy operation is now leased to the neighbouring Moloney family who have added it to its existing adjoining farm.

“The lease works well. What we’re doing isn’t intruding on the dairy farm,” Barry said.

“We keep in contact with the Moloneys and we’re interested in what they do, but we let them do their thing.”

The only stipulation is keeping chemicals away from the vines.

“Grapes cannot tolerate broadleaf herbicides so we manage all the broadleaf control on the dairy farm around our title,” he said.

Barry is no longer a dairy farmer but he keeps abreast of the industry and sees a positive future for the region.

“It seems like it’s going through a difficult stage but I haven’t seen any let-up in enthusiasm locally,” he said.

“People are realising this region has always had a reliable climate.”

As the cellar door becomes established, it is hoped that Keayang Maar vineyard can partner with other local artisan producers, including cheese makers, to showcase regional produce to visitors.