The Story of Farmer & The Scientist
Where did the name Farmer & The Scientist come from? I get asked this a lot. Specifically, “so, who is the Farmer, and who’s the Scientist? Technically, Brian is the Farmer, and I (Jess) am the Scientist of the family. Science is very much a part of farming/viticulture and it’s also impossible to separate farming from the science of winemaking. It really does all start in the vineyard. Fruit quality is everything (you can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse). There is an undeniable connection between the two fields and the interplay between them drives what comes out in the wine. Behind every good wine, there is a farmer and a bit of science.
It has been really fortunate for us that we have taken different sides of the craft – Brian in Viticulture, me on the winemaking side. If we had completely similar skills, our venture would have been missing crucial elements and we would most likely have toppled over early. On a practical, everyday basis, we do find so much overlap in which fields we are working in. As you may have guessed, when you farm grapes and make wine, you end up in a range of different roles (including those you are somewhat unqualified for) such as Brian being a makeshift plumber or diesel mechanic while going about his work. Gotta love those farmers – it may not always be pretty and neat, but they always find a way to keep things turning…and clanging…and grinding away!
We had no start-up capital, no property to speak of, and nothing to lose when we started. we just got to work as always, figuring it out and going for it. The only thing we planned back then, was to put great quality grapes we had grown, into a bottle that would make people happy. Now i do that full-time, and yes, it is as fun as it sounds.’
– Jess Dwyer
Brian has been farming since he was a teenager and completed his apprenticeship in Production Horticulture. He later came to work for Southcorp Wines (now Treasury Wine Estates) at around the age of 21. He started out in a contract work crew installing trellis (vineyard posts). The Manager at the time (George Taylor – now ANZ Operations Manager, Treasury Wines) saw something in Brian and poached him to be a vineyard operator, then further trained him to become the youngest Vineyard Supervisor the company had ever had. It was a quality training ground, with cutting edge practices, equipment and research in viticulture. George became a mate and mentor to Brian (they loved a beer together and a waffle about their matching panelvans) encouraging him to gain a formal Viticulture qualification and keep up his skills in the field. It was an awesome time on the property (going from bare paddock to vineyard). There was so much to learn and oversee as they undertook the immense venture of building and planting out the 850-acre property on Mt Camel range (northern end of the Heathcote wine region).
The vineyard development also meant I, would never go short of work in one of the contract labour crews while I was studying. These crews were hired to pick up rocks clearing the way for vines, plant vines, train vines to the wire, de-sucker the trunks of vines, and prune the vines; run the thousands of km of wire, twist clippers attaching the thousands of kms of wire to irrigation pipe, put staples in each post attaching the wire, lift the wires onto the staples to hold up the growth in the growing season, and pick the grapes. I’m confident I am forgetting other jobs in there, but you get the point, building vineyards is labour INTENSIVE. Then…I got a promotion of sorts…no more gut-busting crew work for a while…they were hiring me direct (flexible with my uni exams), and I was going to learn to use all the TRACTORS & MACHINERY!! boy was I excited. I loved working alongside Brian on the vineyard as I completed my studies. Although I couldn’t smooch him at work, because, he was, sort of my boss.
I completed my Science Degree and further qualification as a primary school teacher. Teaching science was the highlight for me. I love, love, love showing kids all the fascinating things about nature and our world. Kids see the magic in everything, and it reminds me to stay amazed and never forget just how amazing the world really is. Leaving teaching has been bittersweet, as I get back to my original love of working outside on a property (though I progressively spend more time in the office and less and less outdoors). Nowadays I work in Farmer & The Scientist full-time and outside of that I hang out with my own littlies, Charlie May and Hadleigh.
I have learned first hand though, that an incredible lot of hard work goes on behind doors in a winery. For me that’s saying something, as you know, I do not have a particularly soft version of what ‘hard work’ is. Being a cellar hand/forklift driver at a large winery was a huge eye-opener. Winery work really is 5% romance and 95% heavy-lifting, especially at a larger scale. Winemaking though, from any angle, is remarkable to me – as it takes a farm product and turns it into something that is so much more than just the sum of its parts. There are endless variations to the way you grow it, where you grow it, how you treat/process it that creates the end bottle. What has been a real surprise to me, is just how crucial each of those decisions is and how much it can change the end result (no pressure right). I will level with you, peel back the velvet curtain so to speak, I have learnt the hard way on many occasions. Out of ten batches of wines there is always going to be one you aren’t as happy with and sometimes, in the early days, one that went a bit south. I’ve watched thousands of dollars go down the drain in wine (literally) but I stand by never putting anything in a bottle that won’t bring a smile to someone’s face – including my own. Seems intuitive and implied right, but you will be amazed how often in the industry the wine and the price it will fetch comes before the person drinking it. I call those wines despair in a bottle and I think we have all come across a few of those disappointments in our time.
Looking back, I realise I learnt so much from being in contract labour crews doing everything from the dirt up, and later in operational vineyard work. In the mix, ther’s been handpicking tomatoes, blueberries and grapes. I’ve been a vineyard operator of sprayers, slashers and machine harvesters etc. There was also a stint as a cellar hand. This was all super-useful for when we had our mid-life crisis VERY early and decided we wanted to be on a working holiday around Australia (4 years). In there we managed to line up working a vintage for George (who had moved to SA to run Treasury’s Barossa vineyards) as harvester drivers. There were jobs in mango-packing sheds in Darwin, bartenders at Daily Waters Pub (middle of NOWHERE), and as bean/corn harvester drivers in northern QLD. We also managed a small supermarket together in Coral Bay on the Ningaloo Reef…it gets better…it was week-on, week-off (that was a hard one to leave). Currently, Brian manages DeBortoli Wines 193-acre Heathcote vineyard, as well as Farmer & The Scientist’s 20-acres of vines (in his “spare time”). I have left teaching and work full-time in Farmer & The Scientist. It has been a personal goal of mine to replace my teaching wage in the business (perhaps for validation that I can make it outside of the comfort of a government job) I’m so close, I fully believe I will get there. What a day to look forward to.
As I have been on this journey so far, I discovered a real passion for the art/science of winemaking. I have leaned into this area, from making the wine together in the back corner of the boss’s shed (Vintage #1 & #2) to managing the growth of the range in partnership with a winemaking team. The scope for learning in this craft is almost infinite. Another thing I love about it. It fits in with my scientific mind. I make some of the wines still and am super proud of the range and offering of our wines. While I manage my time in all areas of the business, we are extremely fortunate to work with (Jo Marsh & Glenn James – both incredibly experienced and awarded winemakers). You can check out their Alpine Valleys wines here.
All of these experiences help us to not only be unafraid of hard work and trying new things, but we are able to make decisions in the vineyard/business from a totally practical perspective. Having physically done most jobs imaginable in the vineyard and winery, we know the technicalities and constraints from years of work experience. I might have sworn under my breath a few freezing cold mornings with sore hands from months of pruning, but geez when that sun would come out, and you had a good audiobook or album going there are few places like it. Those years are completely invaluable to our business now.
It was because of this journey and a love of the region that we dared to dream that ‘one day’ we could farm our own grapes and together create a wine label. When we decided to get going we had no start-up capital (we blew it all on that trip around Australia) and were working for other people so weren’t going to be building a million-dollar vineyard anytime soon. Minor details right?! We somehow did find a different way around though. Today we lease our 20acre vineyard – hey, if you can’t buy it, rent it until you can right? We no longer make all the wines alone, but work with very accomplished winemakers who expand our knowledge and pallates while affording us some time to focus on farming, and keeping everything running.. We live on a beautiful 200-acre vineyard (thanks to Brian’s job at DeBortoli wines), we grow our own grapes (thanks to Tim & Deb for giving us the lease of their vineyard) and we continue to work the rest out. Our children are growing up surrounded by open space and wildlife, and we are truly blessed.
We are Farmer & The Scientist and we love growing grapes and turning them into awesome wines that make someones day. Our Rooster Hercules has been immortalised on the bottle and you can read about his story here. Our aim is simple – grow down to earth wines that make people happy.
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