Vol 4

Page 8



Wines and Stuff.

John Morley. 



Willowvale Wines.


John continues his story on how/why he and wife Lynne started Willowvale Wines.


In an area known for its Beef and Wool production, growing grapes in Tenterfield might have seemed an outlandish idea. But with the unstable nature of local Markets, the large number of well established beef & wool producers in the region and a somewhat poor return on these same products; the Morley’s were looking for something with a brighter future.


Its true to say that Tenterfield may appear to be somewhat removed from the more familiar NSW wine growing region of the Hunter, but it’s the area’s vicinity and similarity to Stanthorpe, Queensland’s wine growing area that sparked our initial interest. With little knowledge of Viticulture and no agricultural experience, we researched the planned vineyard, gleaning information from any available source, including local fruit growers, and set to clearing the area of what turned out to be an unending supply of  granite. Literally tonnes of calcium nitrate and other soil chemicals were applied in response to the soil tests which were carried out. The planting of 3,500 vines began in 1994 along with the trellising. We chose an equal mix of Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvingnon grapes, again based on the advice of Angelo Puglesi. Ungrafted rootlings were chosen over grafted partially due to cost but mainly due to the confusion that seemed to exist between growers and other “experts”. Later small quantities of grafted rootlings were used as gap fillers were required. To this date no nematode damage (worms - I looked it up. tb) has been obvious.


With the somewhat unpredictable rainfall and lack of running water the choice was made to drip irrigate the vines and combine this with the ability to Fertigate (the process of mixing fertilisers with irrigation water) this allowed us to conserve water, and reduce the chance of fertilisers inadvertently getting into waterways. The  irrigation scheduling was implemented with the aid of a soil moisture monitoring system.


We faced many problems in the first four years, The first crop in 1996, while disappointing, didn’t prepare us for the shock of the following year. The weather conditions seemed to be in our favour, the grapes were maturing well and it looked as if ‘97 would more than make up for last year’s disappointment. And then within weeks of harvest, as the sugar levels were rising, flocks of birds moved in and decimated the vines, there wasn’t enough left to harvest.


With little of the 1996 vintage of wine left to sell and with only a small budget for the 1998 harvest, we had to tighten our belts. As the grapes were maturing the Cab Sav and Chardonnay were covered with loose fitting bird net. Unfortunately the Merlot was not covered and most of the crop was lost.


Most birds simply puncture the skin of one or two grapes in the bunch and while this may seem minor damage, under the right conditions this normally results in rot, mildew, fungus and insect blights, which spreads to the rest of the bunch and eventually can spread through out the vineyard. So as the sugar levels steadily rose, friends and family were contacted, and in mid Feb98 the picking started for the Chardonnay, and lasted 2 days. Two weeks later we picked the Cabinet Sauvingion, another 2 days.


It seemed that the vineyard had turned the corner, and throughout the next 12 months the vines were carefully watched. But as 1999 started it seemed that the weather would never be warm or dry enough to raise the sugar levels sufficiently before the grapes were too soft to be picked.  With the moisture and softness of the grapes increasing the chance of rot, we decided to pick anyway. Because the predicted weight for this harvest should have been approx double the previous year it was decided to use paid pickers. It took half a day to pick the first two rows of Chardonnay. By the time half was picked it was clear there wouldn’t be enough picking bins, so there were frantic phone calls around looking for bins that were suitable. Luckily the wine maker in Ballandean had a few to spare! We picked a bumper crops which turned out a winner.


As stated previously, both Lynne and I would love to see you if you are ever up this way. Come and sample try some of our award winning wines. We’re easy to find once you get to Tenterfield - just follow the signs or ask anyone in town - they’ll point you in the right direction.


Next issue, John will outline the wine making process from grape to bottle.




Some of the revellers at the Perth reunion, held at Raffles Hotel on the 22 October 1999. Don’t you wish you’d gone!!


Clockwise from the left:  Neville Wren,  Arther Turner,  Keith Collins,  Glyn Beavan,  Bob Jorman and Ted Washbrook.


Ron Russell and Bernie Ballantine at the Brisbane reunion.



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