Fred Peacock, Bream Creek Vineyard, Tasmania

Fred Peacock, Bream Creek Vineyard, Tasmania

Name: Fred Peacock

Fred Peacock was born in Hobart and graduated with a degree in Agricultural Science from the University of Tasmania. His experience includes being a horticulturist with the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries for more than 14 years, the last five of those as the State viticulturist. Peacock left the DPI to manage and consult at various vineyards in South-East Tasmania. In 1990 he purchased Bream Creek Vineyard where he remains as owner/manager.
'Like most small vineyard owners/managers, I end up tackling everything from export paperwork, PR, packing orders, accounting, purchasing, carrying buckets and tractor driving at vintage - nothing is excluded from the job description. But the closer to the land, and the further from the paperwork then the better the job!' Peacock said.

What inspired you to become a viticulturist, and how did you get to where you are now?
I remember meeting Maynard Amerine in Tasmania back in the early 1980s, when I assisted in a tasting of Tasmanian wines with him. I was astounded at his ability to describe the vineyard characteristics and even the appearance of the vines from just tasting the wines. It was his first visit to Tasmania - and he had only landed here in the preceding hour! His advice on how to improve the wines by making adjustments in the vineyard made me realise that the interaction of vine treatment and climate was the key to producing great cool climate wines. I already knew that fruit such as raspberries, apricots, cherries, apples from the cooler regions had exquisite flavours - so why should winegrapes be any different? All seems pretty obvious now, but back then the concept of wines being made in the vineyard wasn't so widely accepted.

Do you have a mentor who has influenced you, or your direction in viticulture?
Crikey, it's hard to single out just one! Until the last 20 years or so, 'real' cool climate viticulture was quite a rarity, so everyone was experimenting. That made for lots of opportunities to swap vineyard experiences - good and bad, so there were quite a few mentors. Being based in the Tamar Valley back then, I was involved with the Pirie Brothers, Graham Wiltshire and many others. Each person was developing their own viticulture methods and each contributed to our understanding. I admired the tenacity and determination of those early growers. Don Martin (ex-CSIRO) was quite an inspiration - a very good horticulturist and lateral thinker. More recently I've enjoyed many viticulture discussions with Ray Guerin from whom I have learned a lot.

Which are your favourite varieties to grow, and why?
That's a tricky one. For a challenge you can't go past Pinot Noir. No forgiveness in this variety! Make a mistake in the vineyard and it shows out in the wine to remind you every time you taste that wine. But get it right, and it becomes your favourite variety (I like the challenge). Schonburger is a joy to grow - reliable and always looks like a postcard, so it has to be my pet variety. Good for the days when you've had quite enough challenges.

What is your least favourite variety to grow, and why?
I'm not sure I really have one. In one of our rare wet autumns like 2003, probably the entire lot! Riesling can sometimes drag out in our climate. Picking in late May is not unusual, so that would make Riesling one of my least favourites to grow. Once you get that far through vintage I am anxious to just have it all picked and safely in the winery.

Which alternative variety do you see as being the 'next big thing' for the Australian industry?
I suspect we haven't had much exposure to that next variety yet. Some of the Spanish varieties look pretty interesting, but the next big variety will largely depend on who runs with it, and how much promotional effort is expended in having it widely accepted. See what has been done with Sauvignon Blanc! Our consumers are becoming a lot more adventurous so there will be plenty of scope.

What is your favourite time of the year in the vineyard, and why?
Well that depends a lot on the weather! A long dry vintage like 2008 with fabulous crops and no disease worries makes it just a joy to walk through the ripening vines. But in general I guess seeing rows of young shoots in spring around 10cms long before they start to look untidy would rate pretty highly. All the promise that lies ahead and the excitement of a new season. Plus I always have this awful vision coming into spring that the vines might forget to wake up!

What do you like to do when you're not tending vines?
Sailing is my other passion - the satisfaction of harnessing the wind and that fabulous freedom of gliding through the water is one way of taking a reality check and chilling out. I used to do a lot of bushwalking pre-vineyard days - but I doubt my old bushwalking mates would still regard me as a walker nowadays!

If you had an unlimited budget available to establish your existing vineyard all over again, what (if anything) would you do differently?
For one thing I wouldn't be paying 16% on borrowed funds like I did in the early 1990s to get going! Often wonder how we survived those times. I reckon the great thing about unlimited funding would be to have time to undertake comprehensive planning, soil testing, site mapping and not having to compromise in the face of commercial reality or make 'off the cuff' decisions.

What was the last piece of equipment or machinery you bought for the vineyard?
A new tractor - and what a difference! Enough power to spray up the steepest slopes with a full vat and enough hydraulic oil flow to run extra bits of equipment.

What has been the most difficult business decision you've had to make in your time as a grapegrower and why?
Vintage 1996 was awful in southern Tasmania. The wines turned out great but productivity was horrendously low. The Bream Creek business was young and vulnerable and I really had to decide to either 'go for it' or look at exit strategies. Years in primary production had taught me that there would be long and short cycles of weather, and cool climate vineyards are very 'weather prone'. I decided I really was in it for the long haul, so the climate risk was best managed by getting a foothold in a different climate zone in the north of Tassie to guard against another 1996. Virtually doubling our investment in the industry on the back of a very tough vintage was a huge decision, but it turned out to be a very good one. We ran the northern vineyard for 10 vintages and sold those grapes under contract whilst consolidating the business. Turned out we had great vintages both north and south after that - Murphy's Law reversed?

If you had one tip or 'trick of the trade' to share with your colleagues, what would it be?
Manage your risks! My team must get sick of me ranting on about risk minimisation as it applies to just about everything you do in primary production, where we are largely governed by something as unpredictable and potentially unforgiving as the weather!

If you could remove one vine pest or disease from the face of the earth forever more, which would it be?
If I say Botrytis does that mean no more Botrytis stickies? Ok then I would have to say mealy bug at present. I am just starting to see them getting about in many vineyards and they make me nervous. But then there is Phylloxera - I'd be happy to see them both expelled.

Which areas of grape research do you find of most interest and most practical benefit to your work?
I'm still fascinated at what makes vines react in certain ways, so vine physiology and the determinants of bud fruitfulness and fruit quality gain my attention. I am currently following work on bunch architecture which I reckon has the potential to deliver higher winegrape quality and minimise pest and disease risk. Investigations of vineyard factors influencing flavour and aroma also attract my attention.

What do you think is the number one problem facing today's grapegrowing industry? What would be your solution to this problem?
If it doesn't seriously rain soon - water! But really apart from that we are entering an era where getting seasonal labour is becoming more difficult. There seem to be less people out there keen to really work at agricultural jobs. Rural population decline and opportunities of more comfortable indoors work are having an effect. The solution is maybe to cooperate more with our neighbours so that our rural industries can provide more consistent work over longer periods to try and halt the decline in rural populations.

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