By Fergal Gleeson
Sasha McDonald had a background studying fine arts in Melbourne before wine took over. “I developed a passion for the dirt!” she says reflecting not just her love for wine but also the importance of the vineyard to her philosophy.
After further studies in winemaking, she worked at leading Margaret River wineries Xanadu and Cullen. Sasha met future husband Ben on the driveway of Glenarty Road where she had come to buy grapes.
Together this husband and wife team are the driving force behind Glenarty Road, a sustainable farming and winemaking venture based in Karridale, in southern Margaret River.
They are both passionate about ecological farming. “My family have been farming for five generations,” says Ben McDonald “and I want us to be farming for at least another five. We are here for a long time not for a good time!” he jokes.
“The sheep are integral to the vineyard. We have four hundred little lawnmowers each with four legs that keep the weeds down and keep the place looking like a bowling green! The bugs we buy (which are seeded in the vine canopy to protect the grape bunches) cost the same as pesticides. But they are better because the grapes are happier. The wines don’t have those stressed out characteristics,” says Ben.
Sasha also has taken inspiration from Vanya Cullen who has been a pioneer of sustainable winemaking in Australia.
Ben planted the vineyard himself back in 1997 as a 19 old. “My parents didn’t drink but my nana and mum loved growing plants.” After helping his neighbour plant vines in what is now Vasse Felix Karridale, Ben was inspired to plant his own. He sold the fruit for a number of years before launching the Kerfuffle range in 2004. Winemaking is not an easy business. Ben was close to pulling his vines when Sasha showed up on his driveway in 2014.
Now there are two ranges – Glenarty Road and Kerfuffle and the business is thriving.
“Glenarty Road is picked from blocks that best express the harvest,” says Sasha. The current range (RRP $30) includes a Shiraz, an oaked Sauvignon and a Rosé.
The Kerfuffle range features similar varieties (RRP $20) as well as novel wines such as Archers Drop, a fortified sauvignon Blanc and a vintage port. Ben describes the Kerfuffle style as for the barbeque. “The SBS is nice and light for quaffing. The reds have less oak and are easy drinking,” he says.
Sarah spent a vintage making sparkling wine in the south east of England which has inspired plans for an upcoming blanc de blanc and a pet nat for Glenarty Road. Other upcoming releases include a cane cut Sauvignon Blanc for a dessert wine and the release of a Solera Muscat. They are also grafting emerging Italian white varietals Vermentino and Fiano in the vineyard.
Wine is only part of the story for visitors to Glenarty Road. There are fruit trees, vegetable gardens, over a thousand sheep, a hop field along with a restaurant and cellar door.
I asked Ben how they manage the multitasking. “Lambing happens in July when there’s some pruning to be done in the vineyard but things are quieter there. By vintage time the lambs are sold so we can focus on winemaking,” Ben says.
The farm and a plethora of animals also make Glenarty Road, uniquely family friendly.
“We have designed our gardens to have both form and function with bay leaf hedges, rosemary hedges, olives, coffee, green tea, to be able to use in the kitchen and cellar door,” Sasha says. “Our veggie patch also supplies a large amount of the kitchens needs. You can’t get much fresher than that!”
On the farm they utilise ducks, chickens and guinea fowl (you will see them roaming round the farm) for pest control, taking care of snails, grasshoppers and weevils.
“In the winter our pigs digest our kitchen waste and dig up the next area for our veggie patches. We always have a few friendly lambs close to the cellar door, entertaining the kids while the adults do a tasting. Two working dogs, Bob and Pepper come to greet every car with a wagging tail and a friendly cat is usually asleep in a basket in the cellar door,” she says.
The menu was chosen to integrate with the wines featuring grass fed lamb from the property and locally caught seafood.
“The Cellar door opened up just one year ago and has seen great local support. We were very busy right through our first summer.”
If their wholesome approach to farming and wine making sounds idyllic it is. It’s enough to make even a diehard city dweller dream of making a great escape!
More at www.glenartyroad.com.au