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Kim Tyrer
 
28 December 2014 | News & Media | Kim Tyrer

Looking back at 50 years of wine Albany Advertiser

Tom Zaunmayr, ALBANY ADVERTISER

December 19, 2014, 12:25 pm

Tom Hadley checks a trial planting of vines near Mt Barker. Picture: Ray Ogborne

It was the latter half of the 20th century and the Great Southern’s apple export industry was in dire straits, having fallen over at the hands of the nascent European Union and the outbreak of conflict around the Suez Canal.

It was the latter half of the 20th century and the Great Southern’s apple export industry was in dire straits, having fallen over at the hands of the nascent European Union and the outbreak of conflict around the Suez Canal.

Complicating matters, the next generation of farmers were not too keen on continuing the laborious work required on apple orchards.

It was not only the local apple industry that was struggling, wool prices were also on the slide and commercial whaling out of Albany was on its last legs.

It was a bleak time for the Great Southern, with many local farmers facing economic hardship.

In 1955, a desperate State Government looking for alternative ways for the men and women of the area to make a living flew over American Professor Harold Olmo, who was given the job of establishing the best location to start WA’s first cool-climate vineyard.

Nearly 10 years after the trip, a prized sheep and apple farm in Mt Barker owned by Betty and Tony Pearse was chosen for the first trial — that parcel of land was in a locality named Forest Hill.

In 2015, it will be 50 years since the first vines were planted on a five-acre site at Forest Hill, vines that few believed would turn the region into what it is today.

Betty Quick, nee Pearse, said that because of the deteriorating apple and wool export industries at the time, leasing land to the State Government to conduct the grape-growing trial was an easy decision to make, but did not immediately bear fruit.

“We were looking for an alternative and when the Government asked if we’d be interested in leasing them five acres for 10 years, we had nothing to lose,” she said.

“If it were a success we would have five acres of grapes in production, if it wasn’t a success we would be able to use the five acres of fence posts elsewhere on the farm.

“Everything that was to go wrong did go wrong at Forest Hill, well and truly, with the first grapes having to be replanted, then there were problems with the weather because it was dry land, there was no irrigation.

“We had locusts and then we also had frosts and drought, we never ever thought we’d see our property being drought declared, but it was one time. Then, of course, it was the story of transporting our grapes to Perth up the highway, which caused big problems.

“People used to challenge me in the street, saying ‘what are you squawking about now, you know, you’ve got your head up against the brick wall’, but you just persevere and wear everybody away. The ones from the Eastern States said you’re miles from nowhere — I said I know we’re miles from nowhere, that’s where we live.”

Four other farms were quick to pick up the baton, with Plantagenet, Alkoomi, Goundrey and Shadow Barker establishing in the following years.

Many more set up and failed, but it was the beginning of an industry that would change the Great Southern’s economy and identity for good.

Plantagenet Wines founder Tony Smith was instrumental in the early years, working alongside Mrs Quick to boost the profile of wine not only in the Great Southern, but also in the South West by setting up lobby groups to bring their industry the attention it deserved.

“All of the first farmers here were farmers who diversified — we lived literally from day to day,” Mr Smith said.

“Our early equipment was septic tanks, we bought them from the cement works from Mt Barker and we’d line them with wax.

“Then we needed a fridge but banks weren’t keen to lend money so there was no way we could get a decent development loan. Rob Bowen saw advertised the refrigeration equipment from the whaling station, which was old even at that stage.

“We managed to transport that up to the winery in Mt Barker then ran coils through the tanks that needed refrigeration. There were miles of poly pipe all over the farm for years until the 1990s.”

Mr Smith said his own winery, Plantagenet, would have its own quiet celebrations in 2015, 40 years after purchasing the quaint apple-packing shed that would become the first winery and cellar door in the region.

Mt Barker Wine Producers Association president Kim Tyrer said at the start there was a great financial risk for those pioneers coming to the area to try their fortunes at this emerging industry, but 50 years on many fortunes have been made, with the Great Southern producing about 30 per cent of all grapes in Australia.

“It was back-breaking work back then — it was all new, so no one was sure of what would happen,” she said.

“It was a brave thing to do and a lot of people were sceptical and they thought we were crazy, but we certainly proved it could work.

“It’s hard to believe it has been 50 years — wine is a big part of our history.”

Mrs Tyrer said the wine industry had been pivotal to the social and economic development of the region, questioning what the Great Southern would look like today without its vines spreading from Frankland to the Porongorups, and Cranbrook to the coast.

The association is hoping in February to put a coffee-table book together to celebrate the 50th anniversary and to retell the stories of the Great Southern wineries and the people who helped build the industry into what it is today.

Mrs Quick said the Great Southern growers were still fighting for the level of recognition the region deserves, a fight that has been going since the beginning despite the bucket-loads of awards and praise heaped on wineries across the region over the past four decades.

NOTE- Few mis quotes.
GS produces 30% of WA wine not Australia. WA only produces
2% of total Australian wine.
Shadow Barker- think that’s meant to be Chateau
Barker

https://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/regional/great-southern/a/25821522/looking-back-at-50-years-of-wine/

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