In a class of their own

By Nick Ryan

1 Apr, 2023

There's a growing class of winemakers who sit somewhere between the professionals who make wine for a living and the amateurs who make it purely as a hobby. Nick Ryan speaks to four from his hometown in South Australia's Clare Valley.

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Encounters with winemakers aren’t exactly rare in a wine writing life. When that life is lived in a wine region, it’s a daily occurrence.

Most are easy to spot. The faded workshirt, the shorts in the middle of winter, the Blundstones so worn in they’ve ceased to be footwear and have become a rubber-soled second skin. But then there are others not so easily recognised.

There’s one I see every morning at school drop-off, the one the kids all high-five as they run past and shout, “G’day Mr Shearer.” There’s another I see most nights on the news, a sober suit and a steely gaze steering a course for the country’s commerce through fickle trade winds.

There’s the one I call when a sharp eye and a gun license is needed to dispatch the ducks that like to shit all over my pool. His sombre but always efficient work is rewarded with my kitchen labours and several bottles I open to give context to his own. 

And there’s one I see often when I close my eyes and reflect on what I’ve lost.

It’s the funny thing about living in a community with vineyard rows threaded through it. A large number of people in that community will set off for work with winemaking on their mind, but it doesn’t mean they’re all headed for wineries.

Peter Shearer

Peter Shearer


Peter Shearer is headed to the Principal’s Office at St Joseph’s School. And he’s headed there bloody early. Peter is at his desk at 6am every morning and rarely gets up from it earlier than 6pm each night. It’s the only way he can manage the workload of a school principal with a wine label that’s got a lot bigger than it was ever meant to.

It started, as these things tend to do in places like this, with a conversation among friends that posed the question, “If we’re going to live here, surrounded by vines, why don’t we plant a few of our own?”

In the 18 years since, the other partners have stepped away and the Wykari label is now solely the responsibility of Peter and his wife Robyn, proprietor of one of Clare’s busiest hair salons, with a bit of help from their adult kids.

What might have started as a hobby has become pretty serious. Peter will crush 50 tonnes this year. The vineyard work, vintage chaos and ongoing issue of then having to sell it all, should be onerous for a man who already puts in 12-hour days at his real job, but somehow Peter manages to pull it all off at a very high level.

He spends most school holidays in his 4WD, loaded with wine and a swag, stopping to sell wine to pubs through the state’s mid-north and to the Flinders Ranges.

In a small winemaking community like this, the roles of educator and vigneron are easily entwined. On the day we spoke for this article, a day my seven-year-old told every kid in the playground and most of the staff his dad was coming to talk about wine with Mr Shearer, he’d had several conversations with kids about whether their vineyards had started veraison and a discussion with a winemaking mum at drop off about what kind of brandy spirit they needed to source for a fortified project they’re working on.

These are connections that transcend the standard routine of the schoolyard. They are connections built on a shared pursuit shaping so many in the community. The Wykari wines reflect the man. What I see I the schoolyard, I see in the wines. Dedication, diligence and genuine care.

Don Farrell

Don Farrell

Farrell Wines

Don Farrell’s not getting into his vineyard as much as he’d like these days – being the Federal Minister for Trade and Tourism doesn’t leave a lot of time for leaf plucking or shoot thinning – but the connection to his property at Sevenhill will always be strong. 

It’s his decompression from the high-pressure world of politics and he calls the 90-minute drive north from Adelaide’s airport his “journey towards peace”.

“My doctor says it’s very beneficial to my health to be here, and he’s not just talking about medicinal benefits from the wine. It’s very useful to just take a bit of a break and get some dirt under the nails.”

Don’s family have a long connection to the region, so when he went looking for a country retreat back in 2010, there was little doubt where that would be.

When he and his wife Nimfa launched their eponymous label at the Sevenhill Hotel back in 2015, Don’s legendary powers of persuasion ensured the place was packed with powerbrokers, and by asking this writer and former PM Julia Gillard to speak at the event, he managed to pair a woman of substance with a substance claiming to be a man.

There’s a good reason why their top cabernet sauvignon is called ‘The Godfather Too.’

While the Farrells are required to step away from the wine business while Don serves as a Minister in the Albanese Government – the business is now in the hands of their distributor Ben Dineen and the wines are being made by the brilliant Kerri Thompson – Don is still deeply in tune with the seasonal rhythms of the vineyard, something that very much informs his thinking when discussing matters of global trade.

“I’d like to think that even our little slice of a winemaking life gives me some insight into this country’s winemakers and how best to further their interests.”

He certainly understands the diplomatic usefulness of a good bottle too. Since being appointed Trade and Tourism Minister in June 2022, Don has entertained the British Trade Minister at the vineyard and offered retreat to the Ukranian Ambassador who came to stay among the vines. He’s even found national benefit in the fellowship that unites all those who toil in vineyards, watching tensions in the Franco-Australian relationship ease when the French Trade Minister insisted, as a fellow vigneron, that Don visit his own vineyard in Alsace.

Grapes from Edilillie

David Cook

Edilillie Wines