Some people love the hustle and bustle of life in a big city; working nine-to-five in a corporate office, commuting from the suburbs every day and spending weekends catching up with family and friends at local parks, cafés and restaurants. Maybe a trip or two to the countryside every year before packing the car and heading home to start all over again.
For others, like Fiona Habermann, life in the big city has nothing on living in one of the world’s great wine regions, the Barossa Valley. Growing up amongst her grandparents’ vines had a profound impact on her from a young age and since then she’s been passionate about all things grape and wine. Today, this expresses itself through the diverse and sustainable farming enterprise she runs with her husband Daniel, Habermann’s Höhe, continuing the work of five previous generations that have called the Barossa home.
On the importance of viticulture…
Before we delve into Fiona’s journey we need to set the scene and look at how important viticulture is in making premium Australian wine. The ultimate aim of viticulture is to enable the production of grapes that are ideal for winemaking. While the specific techniques and practises of viticulture (irrigation/pruning/trellising etc.) can be very precisely applied and managed, there are many variables affecting the vine that are out of human control.
Nicki Robins – Shaping a Barossa legacy for generations to come
The influence of climate is crucial in deciding the quality of the wine produced each vintage. Solar radiation, heat energy, air movement and rainfall are highly variable and the job of the viticulturist is to manage the vineyard, interpret the climatic conditions of each season and respond accordingly.
Much of the work in viticulture involves preparing each vine to move through the many stages of the growing year. The process begins at pruning and is completed at harvesting. Each grape variety is unique and the techniques best suited to one are likely to be very different from the next, just as they are different depending on the age of the vineyard. As vines mature the focus of viticulture changes. Fiona and Daniel see themselves as caretakers of the land, rather than controllers, and as such it’s easy to understand why sustainable farming is so important to them.
An idyllic childhood spent amongst the vines
If you are born in Angaston in the Barossa loving the outdoor life then there’s a strong chance you will end up working in the wine game. When your parents own a vineyard, the chances are even higher. When you were brought up in said vineyard, playing and sleeping amongst the vines, then your destiny is all but assured. This is how things played out for Fiona and her two brothers.
The vineyard that inspired Fiona to spend a life devoted to the vine was located in Flaxman’s Valley. This is a diverse grape growing area in Eden Valley, able to grow long-lived and elegant Riesling alongside vibrant and complex Shiraz. The Eden Valley region sits high above the Barossa Valley floor, home to famous Australian wine names like Henschke, Pewsey Vale, and Mountadam. It’s also home to a new generation of vignerons like Abel Gibson of Ruggabellus, challenging perceptions of Australian wine around the world. It’s easy to understand why Fiona loved growing up in this slice of vinous heaven.
Eden Valley - Home to Australian wine royalty
As soon as they were old enough, Fiona and her brothers purchased a vineyard next door to their grandparents. Despite their relative inexperience they had no trouble producing high quality grapes. They quickly became the youngest ever growers for iconic Barossa producer Peter Lehmann. In fact, they were so young that Fiona had to take a day off high school to attend the annual growers’ day.
After finishing school, Fiona travelled for a time. She spent time living in Darwin, heading up by herself like many others do, only she was never going to end up working an office job in London, New York or Paris or any other city. The Barossa Valley, the vines, the people and the lifestyle were always going to draw her back.
Moving up the road to Habermann’s Höhe
The Barossa is a community of people that share a unique food and wine culture that’s been built over many generations. It’s the kind of place where everybody knows your name. Fiona had known Daniel Habermann long before they ever imagined they would become a couple. Having many common passions and shared inspirations meant that no one was surprised when they decided to make their lives together.
Fiona moved from one farm to another, ‘rolling down the hill’ to Daniel’s place. And so, two people that loved the outdoors, and loved working hard to get the best produce from their special patch of the Barossa dirt came together. For more than twenty years they’ve been inspiring each other every day, pushing each other to be the best they possibly can be.
While she grew up amongst the vines in the Eden Valley, the Habermann vineyards are located in the foothills of the Barossa ranges near the small village of Bethany. Fitting for sixth generation farmers this is the oldest European settlement in the Barossa Valley, founded in 1842. It’s a part of the Barossa Valley that has been renowned for the quality of the fruit for many, many generations.
The importance of sustainability and custodianship
Over the years Fiona and Daniel have grown and shaped their philosophy around producing exceptional quality grapes. In the beginning, they were reactionary; responding to viticultural hazards and challenges when they happened. Today, they are proactive, thinking ahead and planning as much as possible for the challenges that may come. You can think of it like maintaining a healthy lifestyle to reduce your chance of sickness rather than living a lazy life and treating inevitable diseases with medicine.
They are thoughtful about everything they do, constantly questioning and challenging how they do things in order to find better ways. This despite being descended from people who’ve been caring for the land for five or more generations. And even though they’ve had no trouble selling their grapes to renowned Barossa wineries they are always asking whether this work can be done with less impact on the environment? Can they produce better quality grapes by refining this process or that process?
‘I think the costliest mistake people can make is to do things because that’s just the way it’s been done. They don’t question it and they don’t understand it. We are always pushing each other to better understand why we do things. We keep evaluating our vineyard practices, look at where the wine industry is going and take into account all of the other factors that each season brings.’
Fiona and Daniel Habermann are part of the rich historical tapestry that makes the Barossa special. They are salt of the earth people. Hardworking and honest - they live for working the land. They aren’t stuck in the past though, living off past glories. They challenge the status quo and are fearless in embracing new technologies while ensuring the Barossa’s traditions and learnings are passed on to the next generation. Modern Australian grape growers farming sustainably to ensure a legacy for many generations to come? No wonder the future for Australian wine is looking so bright.
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