Reiner and Irma
In 1972 Reiner Klapp, founder of Klapp Electronics, and his wife Irma, purchased their 40 hectare weekend retreat in the picturesque foothills of the Great Dividing Range on Long Gully Road just west of Healesville. Little did they know then, that this decision would become the beginning of a whole new life for them and they certainly had no idea that they would go on to become major contributors to the rebirth of the wine industry in the Yarra Valley.
For the first ten years they grazed cattle on their weekend ‘hobby farm’ but by 1982 they could no longer ignore the enormous potential for their property to produce top quality grapes.
The initial planting was a total of only 2.2 hectares consisting of Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Further plantings over the ensuing years added Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Viognier, eventually bringing the total plantings to nearly 30 hectares.
Long Gully Estate grew to become one of the larger ‘boutique vineyards’ in the Yarra Valley, building their own on-site wine making facility and crushing around 100 tons of grapes every vintage.
Reiner coined the often-quoted phrase, “life is too short to drink bad wine” and he was an energetic promoter of excellence in wine making as its own reward. He knew that great wine could only come from exceptional grapes so he worked the vines for quality and not quantity, shoot thinning and hand harvesting as necessary to ensure the best from each vine. Reiner had built his electronic business importing the best quality Hi Fi technology from around the world and his winery would be no different. Long Gully was one of the first wineries in the Yarra Valley to install what was then cutting-edge Roto fermentation equipment and a state of the art GAI automated bottling line, both of which are still in use at the winery today.
In the heady days of the winery’s success, Long Gully wines were served on all Ansett Airline flights for nearly a decade and specially labelled Red and White Long Gully wines were served in the Victorian parliamentary dining room. The winery received numerous awards and accolades for their exceptional wines, winning 9 prestigious trophies and a tally of gold, silver and bronze medals numbering in the hundreds.
"Life is too short to drink bad wine!"
Robert and Irene
In 1996 with Long Gully at the height of its success, a young couple Robert and Irene Magdziarz and their two-year old daughter Olivia, visited Reiner there on a midweek day sometime in December/January. Robert and Irene were planning to bid on a neighbouring property called Taraford at an upcoming auction. They had asked Reiner for advice on the Yarra Valley region and although such knowledge was a precious and valuable commodity, Reiner had graciously offered to share what he knew. The vineyard was in full canopy and while young Olivia played in the vine rows, Reiner made them welcome and offered what wisdom he could to help them with their dream.
Sadly, the price on auction day was more than the couple could afford, but they never forgot the generous heart that Reiner had displayed in helping them as newcomers trying to get started in the Yarra Valley.
About a year later Robert and Irene bought their first property in the Macedon Ranges. Planting vines as soon as they could, they contracted local winemaker Alan Cooper of Cobaw Ridge to make their wine from the first harvest three years later. Fast forward through five vintages with Robert simultaneously running hospitality venues in Melbourne, it all became too much, so their “Field of Dreams” Vineyard in Kyneton was sold in 2005.
Two years later a business windfall had Robert and Irene in a position to once again pursue their dream of a property in the Yarra Valley. Two years searching and a dozen potential vineyards later, they purchased Warramunda in 2007. Warramunda was an established vineyard on the golden mile of Maroondah highway with Domaine Chandon, Domenic Portet, Oakridge and Rochford for neighbours.
Rob and Irene ran Warramunda for ten years with Rob splitting his time between the vineyard and his Melbourne business commitments. Selling grapes in the early years, they moved on by engaging Ben Haines as their winemaker, to oversee their contract wine making activities at Yering Station winery making Warramunda wine. They built a cellar door and things went from strength to strength, but that last step of having their own winemaking facility for one reason or another always seemed to elude them.
Reiner meanwhile had been suffering from ill health for some years and with the added pressure of large risks in the unpredictable export market, he passed away in 2009. Long Gully traded on but without Reiner’s passion something seemed to be missing. A variety of management options were tried over the ensuing years but by 2017 it had become clear, that if Long Gully was to ever flourish again, it would require a substantial capital injection and a renewed vision. With that capital injection not forthcoming, the property was reluctantly placed on the market.
Sometime in mid-2018, Yering Station informed Warramunda that the arrangement they had for making wine in their winery was untenable going forward. At about this same time, Robert heard that Long Gully with its wine making facility may be available for purchase. Encouraged by feelings of nostalgia and a sense of possible destiny, Robert contacted the agent and met with Irma at Long Gully. Negotiations continued over the ensuing months with Robert finally concluding that the purchase was too ambitious to undertake alone. He rang a
friend who was unable to help but suggested Robert contact a mutual acquaintance of them both, an old guy who had just sold his busines and retired, but who might be up for it as a way of smelling the roses in his twilight years. Robert contacted Vin Lopes and on an intoxicating spring day standing on the balcony of the old cottage overlooking the vineyard, the two agreed to purchase and revitalise Long Gully Estate.
The New Beginning
Robert and Vin
The contract to purchase Long Gully Estate was signed in December 2018, with a condition that access be granted prior to settlement for immediate hard pruning to be undertaken, to take advantage of what was left of the season to revitalise the vines. It would be two years of rescue work before the Long Gully vines would produce again, but Warramunda fruit would be due for harvest in a matter of weeks and much needed to be done to prepare the winery for vintage. Brendan Hawker was appointed as the new winemaker for Long Gully and Ben Haines came on board as a consultant for the first vintage. As a winemaker and vendor in his own right, Ben would also produce his own wines at the Long Gully facility.
Several new open top fermenters were rushed into place and temporary fixes were applied to the cooling system to get it operational in the short term. A new forklift with bin tipper, new hoses and new pumps, were unpacked and commissioned. Truckloads of neutral oak barrels were purchased and stacked in the old barrel hall and new oak was sourced wherever stock was available in Australia.
In mid-February 2019, Warramunda grapes began arriving at the winery even before the plastic was fully peeled from the stainless-steel of the new fermenters; ready or not vintage was upon us. Brendan and Ben worked from first light to dusk and because at that time we were yet to get possession of the cellar door cottage, they both slept in tents on the lawn for the crucial weeks of vintage. Together these two men processed 170 ton of fruit that year using every tank and container they could lay their hands on. The full vintage for Warramunda was processed and using Warramunda fruit, the first “new beginning” Long Gully Estate wines were also pressed.
By May with the new wine in barrel, discussion started on a road map for the future. Plans were drawn up to refurbish and re-equip the winery building, adding a new dedicated bottling room for the GAI line and a new lab and offices for the winemakers. A new tree lined driveway would also be added, leading to a new carpark and a new cellar door building with capacity for large group tastings.
With the plans lodged at local council and the long wait for a planning permit underway, Rob, Vin and Brendan flew to Adelaide for the Wine Tech Show in mid-July. Meetings and discussions with international suppliers exhibiting at Wine Tech led to orders being placed. A new 90 ton capacity fermenter farm coming from China, plus a new Scharfenberger berry sorting de-stemmer and a new state of the art programmable computer controlled Scharfenberger grape press. Both of the latter coming from Germany and all to arrive in country by January for next vintage.
Work began in October to refurbish the existing old winery building to receive the new equipment. Old equipment was relocated, floors were sealed, gantries were rebuilt, a new glycol refrigeration system installed and all plumbing completely overhauled. During this activity the planning permit came through from council but the new buildings would have to wait. Once again, with vintage bearing down on us, all we could focus on was being ready for fruit. The new equipment arrived in January with the Aussie exchange rate at a ten-year low and it was all commissioned in the refurbished old winery building with only days to spare.
With the new equipment the capacity of the winery had tripled. This time we had new oak from the premium forests of France sporting the Long Gully brand. Ben Haines was back to make his wine and our new assistant wine maker Hamish Smith came in from Europe early to help with preparations. Brendan had arranged for two student winemakers Tomaso from Italy and Clement from France to join the team for vintage and Olivia from Warramunda was there to continue her winemaking journey with the boys. The stage was set for a momentous year.
Well momentous it was but not what we expected. Unusually big rains early in the season pushed the growth season back. Then big winds and hail during flowering damaged much of the new growth. Searing heat and wild bushfires ravaged the entire east coast of Australia with risk of smoke and temperature damage. Then late in the summer unseasonal cold and rain caused mildew risk and crop damage. The 2020 wine crop was down dramatically not just in the Yarra Valley but right across South Eastern Australia with many vineyards losing their entire crop to fire or smoke damage. With the reworked Long Gully vines yet to produce crop we were relying on Warramunda and other vineyards for 2020 fruit but with crops down everywhere our purchase allocations from other vineyards were all cut. Our new big winery pressed barely a hundred ton of fruit for the vintage. Then just when it couldn’t get any worse, it did, Corona Virus closed Australia down.
2020 wine is now in barrel but one observation Brendan made during vintage was that although quantity was down, quality was up markedly. With less bunches on them the vines pushed more quality into the fruit and to quote the winemakers during pressing “they are like little flavour bombs.” Development in the barrels since then has reinforced that view. 2020 Long Gully wines will be outstanding but could very quickly be in short supply. The first of these wines are almost ready for bottling and should be available for purchase very soon. Enjoy.
With lockdown restrictions winding back we have demolished the old cellar door cottage and are planning to commence construction of the new cellar door and the winery extension in the coming days. Hopefully we will be entertaining fellow wine lovers on the new deck overlooking the vines sometime in the new year.
At the time of writing it is September 2020. The Long Gully vines have been restored with new canes laid out on the wires and all looks great for our “new beginning” 2021 Estate crop from these venerable old vines.
Artistry in Wine - continuing a family tradition