On the land: Barry and Bernadette Wurlod at the grounds of their winery in Dixie. Picture: Morgan Hancock

On the land: Barry and Bernadette Wurlod at the grounds of their winery in Dixie. Picture: Morgan Hancock

Farmer to winemaker: How one family moved from milk to wine

Victorian dairy farmer-turned-winemaker opens cellar door

Agriculture
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'We wanted to move from dairy without having to move'

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A GENERATION ago, a farmer's son would take over the farm from their father, no questions asked.

That was the case for Victorian dairy farmer Barry Wurlod, who took onhis father's dairy farm when he finished school.

In 1979 he and his wife Bernadette married and they had three children, all of whom they discovered, had no interest in becoming dairy farmers.

Faced with a generational shift, unstable milk prices and 200-hectares of productive land to run the Wurlods decided that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Or more fittingly, when life gives you grapes, make wine.

Over a decade ago they planted a small row of grape vines. Now the family is building a winery.

"We moved here with the family in 1963, I later married Bernadette and we've farmed here since then," Mr Wurlod said.

"Now after raising a family we're moving into a vineyard and cellar door. My youngest son Jerram and his wife Caitlin are working with us to set it up.

"I left school in the late 1970s and then not long after that I started on the family farm. When we were married we raised three children and ran the farm for the next 40 years after that.

"We got to a point where we had a very big enterprise and we could see that we didn't have a lot of family interest in dairy farming so we decided to move out of farming.

"We leased the farm out, pursued other interests, and then probably two years ago we decided to go for another change in our lifestyle - and because we'd been growing grapes for our own interest - we decided to develop that."

The Wurlod family: Bernadette, Archer, 3, Caitlin, Jerram, Wren, 1, and Barry at their Dixie home. Picture: Morgan Hancock

The Wurlod family: Bernadette, Archer, 3, Caitlin, Jerram, Wren, 1, and Barry at their Dixie home. Picture: Morgan Hancock

In the height of their dairy farming days, the Wurlods milked around 2000 cows over a number of properties in Dixie.

"It was becoming a bit too big and a bit too out of our control, we had to employ a lot of labour and back in those days farming was very family orientated," Mr Wurlod said.

"We wanted to move from dairy without having to move from here.

"It was just the amount of work, time and stress. We felt we were just working for ourselves, not really for any future."

Read more: Meredith Dairy sends Aussie goats' cheese around the world

Not wanting to shift from their house on the hill, they kept the dairy farm with a sharefarmer before leasing part of the property and keeping around six hectares for the vineyard.

The farm is on part of the original Keayang Station overlooking a volcanic crater, known as a maar.

And so Keayang Maar Vineyard was born.

With the help of a Corangamite Shire Council grant, the family are building a cellar door which they hope to integrate with the Twelve Apostles Gourmet Trail.

Cellar door: Barry Wurlod stands where the new cellar door and function room will be built. Picture: Morgan Hancock

Cellar door: Barry Wurlod stands where the new cellar door and function room will be built. Picture: Morgan Hancock

"To put it simply, we're building a big shed. Part of it will be a machinery shed and part of it will be a vine processing area, and the main part will be the cellar door," Mr Wurlod said.

"It will have views out over the maar and over the vines. It will be a unique design, we're probably going to go with a more modern theme in the building of it with lots of glass and lots of access to the vines and surrounding land."

Son Jerrum and his wife Caitlin have made the shift from Melbourne to help with the business arm of the Wurlod wine enterprise.

The entrepreneurial pair hope to have events, such as weddings and birthdays, up and running by this time next year.

Vineyard: Caitlin and Jerram Wurlod at the family farm-turned-winery in Dixie. Picture: Morgan Hancock

Vineyard: Caitlin and Jerram Wurlod at the family farm-turned-winery in Dixie. Picture: Morgan Hancock

"Being located where we are, we are quite close to the gourmet food trail at Timboon so we're really hopeful we might be able to partner with some of those local artisan producers like us to really showcase the region," Caitlin said.

"I think our story sparks a interest with people. There's actually now four generations living on this farm and that's a pretty amazing thing.

"We want to make this a space the local community can have access to and enjoy as much as we do.

"I grew up in Dunkeld and one of the things I've noticed is the diversification of the area. Over the road here we've got a swim school, there's a few farms around that do on-farm accommodation and there's horse agistment around the corner.

"There's some interesting things happening and that's a really positive sign for the local community and another thing that's adding to the feel of the area."

Pinot Noir and Shiraz grapes grow well on the rich volcanic soil of the Wurlod property. Mr Wurlod has started growing white wine grapes to make a Riesling and Chardonnay.

Cool climate wine grapes flourish in the chilly south-west conditions, he said.

Mr Wurlod knows the sloping plains of the south-west intimately, but even he was surprised by the amount of work that goes into being a winemaker.

"It's hard work and people probably don't realise that there's got to be work involved. The more you grow the more work it is," he said.

"I know a lot of people look on it as a bit of a fun thing to do, grow some grapes, but it's constant work and attention.

"We're used to that with our farming background but it came as a little bit of a surprise at first the amount of work, but then we sat back and realised it's not too different to cattle and crops. You've got to work with them all the time."

Mrs Wurlod said the grape vines came about almost by chance. "When we built the house we thought it would look nice to have some grape vines, it was purely just an aesthetic look at the time," she said.

"But the vines grew really well and we started producing some wine from them. Barry became the wine maker and I mainly picked them.

"Barry continued to strike the cuttings and grow more and we got to the stage there was a lot of wine being made, so we took the next step.

"We built here knowing it's a beautiful location with lots of beautiful views it just unfolded that way."

They have enough grapes to make up to 600 bottles of vintage, but on a good year they make around 3000 bottles a year, depending on the season.

Vineyard: This will be the view from the new cellar door and function room. Picture: Morgan Hancock

Vineyard: This will be the view from the new cellar door and function room. Picture: Morgan Hancock

Mr Wurlod said their new venture was well-received by the local community.

"We've got a lot of feedback from local people that the area needs something like this, there isn't anything like it around here," he said.

"I think it's good for the community, not just the towns but the actual small community we live in here in Dixie. Many years ago this was a very vibrant farming area where they had sporting teams and schools but all that has gone, as has happened in pretty much most of Australia in rural areas.

"This area has been one that I've actually seen turn around in recent years. There's people coming to live here, it doesn't sound like much but there's probably 10 or 12 new families in the district over the last 10 years compared to probably 20 or 30 leaving the district 20 years prior to that.

"Hopefully this will help encourage more people to come in."

"There seems to be a lot of excitement which is really encouraging," Mrs Wurlod added.

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