Zoe & Luke Crouch, a young couple from farming backgrounds moved to Landsborough in the Pyrenees region of Victoria after purchasing some land to farm & raise their family. In 2015, just over the rolling quartz hills behind their property, they noticed a 'For Sale' sign on the beautiful but neglected 'Ned's Vineyard.' Thinking it was worth a look, they drove in and phoned the number.
They connected with Sebastian (Bass), the son of the previous owner & a friendship was quickly forged based on the story of Bass's father Mick & his vision for his beloved Shiraz vines. Sadly, Mick had passed away suddenly the year before, leaving the dreams he had behind . And so began the journey & commitment to bring Ned’s Vineyard back to life.
What did 2015 look like for you both when you took on Ned's Vineyard?
"That year, conditions were actually good for the vines. They were hanging densely with fruit and the quality was promising. Weather wise we had just come through a hot summer so the ripening was perfect."
As the vineyard & farmhouse had lacked maintenance over the years, it was a hectic year with cleaning, tidying and making the place their own. Good fortune arrived when they were granted a forward contract with a local winery who would accept their grapes, so the first year as new managers of the vineyard went relatively smoothly.
We all romanticize life on a Vineyard. What challenges did you face in resurrecting Ned’s?
"Pruning was a huge challenge, Luke worked full time away and I was running our farm, raising children, running a household as well as picking up part time work. Winter was normally our time to take a break, but pruning took precedence and to save money we embarked on it ourselves. I was also heavily pregnant at the time. They may not look like long rows but they are tremendously long when you are pruning by hand."
Vineyard life can be relentless and you are at the peril of drought, Kangaroo invasion & frost. Zoe believes you have ride out the bad times, understand and appreciate that everything happens slowly. "I'm always amazed by the simplicity - that with patience & time we can produce amazing wine. That keeps us going"
Originally planted in 1997, a lot of the infrastructure was nearing the end of its life. Zoe & Luke found themselves constantly replacing wires, posts & strainers.
"When we first moved into the old house, we uncovered an old blackboard with lots of jargon written on it. Luke wouldn't let me clean it luckily, as later it revealed itself as the guide to the running of the Vineyard."
With the newly discovered 'roadmap' in hand they were guided on how to care for each row, how much to spray and when to fertilize. "We refer to that board so much now."
Simple hand written instructions, left as though knowing the new trustees would need careful guidance.
What are some special moments you have had on the Vineyard?
"Personally, when we saw our bottles rolling off the bottling plant line, with our labels that we had designed, all of a sudden it became very real. We had achieved this ourselves & it puts all the hard work into perspective."
For Luke it was the first beautiful crop that he had grown, pruned and nurtured.
"There is nothing better than that sense of raw accomplishment."
~ Luke Crouch
Who was Ned & what is the story behind 'The Gold Diggers Ghost'?
"There was once a house amongst the old existing peppercorn trees on the property. In the early 1900's a man called Ned lived there and raised a family." It was said that Mick had felt the gentle presence of old Ned in the tree's and the land, so felt it fitting to pay tribute to the original owner.
"The Gold Digger's Ghost part came about as Luke and I have always loved exploring old mining areas and our region is so well known for the Gold rush days. We used to joke that there was probably a few floating around the vineyard, as we are situated on a main thoroughfare and Swaggy’s used to camp in the trees just down the road."
What is it about the Pyrenees making it a world famous wine growing region?
"I am totally biased on this question, I wouldn’t limit it to just a wine growing region, its a beautiful region to simply live in. We are so blessed as Vigneron's to enjoy hot, dry summers and cool nights allowing for a slow ripen, and of course combined with our quartz and red clay soils which cater for the perfect growing environment."
The Pyrenees region produces a typically dry vintage which limits the risk of fungal disease that other wine regions face.
What's does a day in the life at Ned's look like?
"Pruning and vintage are our busiest times of the year, that is when we employ contractors to help complete the work. We are lucky to have the guidance of Andrew Davey, our winemaker to assist us in all aspects of production. He's always behind us with advice, knowledge and ideas. When vintage rolls around we rise at dawn, make sure all the contractors are aware of farm bio-security measures and then we get right into harvesting."
Depending on the size of the crop, Zoe & Luke may make a few trips to the winery in a day. The aim is to harvest quickly, when the grapes are at their peak, then the machines are all cleaned when dusk rolls in. It's a long day, but it's also a true sense of achievement seeing their tubs spilling over with grapes.
What would your advice be for anyone seeking to make a change and take on a rural lifestyle?
"It's not always easy, especially in drought when the dam and the water tanks run dry, or there is the smell of smoke on the wind in the middle of summer."
~ Zoe Crouch
Zoe believes there is no better place to raise children. "They learn about life and death, the struggles of drought, hard work, responsibility & resilience. Its not for everyone. Many people who look for a tree change don’t realise just how hard it can be. We wouldn't change it for the world though."
What's in store for Ned's Vineyard in the future?
"We are excited for the future at Ned's. It all takes time, but we will continue to grow high quality grapes, and may even include a white wine into the mix, somewhere down the track. Who know's, perhaps even a cellar door in the future. For now we keep improving, striving and loving what we do."
Tell us about the 2017 Gold Diggers Shiraz.
The Gold Diggers Ghost was sourced from the “Top Block” at Ned’s where the vines reach deep into the alluvial rich soil. Carefully constructed by wine maker Andrew Davey, he has enabled the fruits’ outstanding characteristics to shine through boasting a bouquet of plums, chocolate and a lingering spice. A smooth raspberry and cinnamon palate. Combining with red apples, vanilla and orange peel. Enjoy with any red meat or vegetarian dish.
We are privileged to support boutique Australian growers & to include Ned's Shiraz in our Christmas Hamper range for 2019.
Image credits 1,2,& 3: Zoe Crouch.