The Story of Farmer & The Scientist
Where did the name Farmer & The Scientist come from? I get asked this a lot. Specifically, “who’s 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 bit of science and a farmer.
Its 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 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 find so much of overlap in where and what we are working on though. As you may have guessed, when you farm grapes and make wine, you have a bunch of different roles (including those you are somewhat unqualified for) such as Brian being a makeshift plumber or diesel mechanic. 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. So we just got to work figuring it out and went for it. The only thing we wanted back then, was to put great quality grapes we had grown, into a bottle that would make someone 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 in his home town in the Yarra Valley. He came to work for Southcorp Wines (now Treasury Wine Estates) at around the age of 21. I was living in the northern Heathcote region picking tomatoes in the TAFE holidays and he followed me…awwww. He started out in a contract work crew building the vineyard (fancy way of saying he banged posts in the ground all day). The Manager (George Taylor – now ANZ Operations Manager, Treasury Wines) saw something in Brian and poached him to be a vineyard operator, then 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 in the field. It was an awesome time on the property (going from bare paddock to vineyard) with so much to learn and oversee as they undertook the massive venture of building and planting out the majority of an 850-acre property on the 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. 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; twist clippers attaching the thousands of kms of wire to irrigation pipe, run the thousands of km of wire, 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 vineyards as I completed my Science and Teaching Degree at Uni. Although I couldn’t smooch him at work, because, he was sort of my boss.
Looking back, I learnt so much from all the farm jobs I did. I’ve been in contract labour crews doing everything from the dirt up, in vineyard work. I’ve handpicked picked tomatoes, blueberries and grapes. Been a vineyard operator of the machinery, sprayers and machine harvesters. 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 Oz (4 years). We worked 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 !!
Currently, Brian manages DeBortoli Wines 193-acre Heathcote vineyard, as well as Farmer & The Scientist’s 20-acres of vines (in his “spare time”). He has also decided sheep farming would make a nice “hobby” (if I didn’t love him, I could kill him). I’m waiting for him to say he wants to get some cows next…
All of these experiences help us to not only be unafraid of hard work and trying new things but 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 a few profanities to myself some freezing cold mornings with sore hands from months of pruning – and when you are in a contract labour crew, butt-head supervisors, not naming Brian; like to drive the whip speed-wise. But geez when that sun would come out, and you had a good audiobook going there are few places like it. Those years are completely invaluable to our business now.
Eventually, I completed my Science Degree and a further qualification as a primary school teacher. Teaching science was the highlight for me. I love, love, love showing kids all the amazing things about nature and our world. Kids see the magic in everything, and it reminded me to stay amazed and never forget just how cool the world really is. For now, though I have left the teaching to others as I get back to my original love of working outside on a property (though I am spending more time in the office and less outdoors..boo). Nowadays I work in Farmer & The Scientist full-time and outside of that I hang out with my own cool kids, Charlie May (4) and Hadleigh (2).
I did learn first hand though, that an incredible lot of hard work goes on behind closed doors of a winery. And that’s saying something, as you know, I do not have a particularly soft-version of what ‘hard work’ means. Being a cellar-rat/forkie 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, what you do with it etc that gives you the wine you get at the end. What has been a surprise to me, is just how crucial each one of those decisions is and how much it can change the end result.
As I have been through this journey so far, I discovered a real passion for the art 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 then getting bigger and needing to move it out of the boss’s shed (read – overstaying your welcome), to managing the growth of the range with winemakers we employ. I can’t believe really, how much we have learnt in a short time, but in the world of wine, even the best are still babies. The capacity for understanding 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, at that old workplace of mine (the huge winery) and I’m super proud of the wines. I still leave the whites (a bit trickier from a winemaking perspective) and the ultra-premium wines to the experts (Jo Marsh & Glen James – both incredibly experienced and awarded winemakers). You can check out their Alpine Valleys wines here.
It was because of this journey and a love of the region, it was always in the plan to ‘one day’ 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 buying a million-dollar vineyard anytime soon! Minor details. We somehow found a way to get here though. Today we lease our 20acre vineyard – hey, if you can’t buy it, rent it until you can right? We also employ super-skilled winemakers (our rental house doesn’t come with a winery) and work from an abandoned shearing shed on the property. We live on a beautiful 200-acre vineyard (thanks to DeBorts), grow our own grapes (thanks to Tim & Deb for giving us reign of the vineyard) and generally love the shit out of life. Our kids are growing up surrounded by 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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