Season 1, Episode 17

Hill of Promise Winery

Join Benjamin Starr as he interviews Mary from Hill of Promise Winery and Cellar Door . Mary shares how she and her husband started growing grapes and producing wine in an area that is located in the heartland of sugarcane farms.

You’ll want to add this area to your ‘explore list’ after listening to and learning from Mary about this diverse region. 

Hosts & Guests

Benjamin Starr


Read the transcript

Ben: Okay we’re driving our own adventure time for a wine break.  We have the lovely Mary joining us in the studio. The Hill of Promise. What a lovely name. How are you Mary?

Mary: Hi Ben, fine thank you.       

Ben: Tell me this is an interesting story. We’ve had a bit of a chat before the interview about the whole family, how it all got here.  There’s a link with Sicily and there’s all this wonderful culture going on. 

Mary: Well I grew up in Brisbane with an Irish German background.  Much more Irish than German in lots of ways. And I did an Arts Degree and a Diploma of Education at the University of Queensland and then took a job with the Queensland Education Department and ended up being transferred to Childers to teach students in year twelve German.

Ben: Childers is a lovely place though. Tell us a little bit about the town because it is quite a very quaint little town.

Mary: It is. This area here was very rich in timber.  So, it was originally timber hoop pine. In the 1870s    a lot of Egyptology hence the Isis district. So, Childers itself a little township that was rooted in the sugar industry so sugar cane. The cane was cut by hand.

Ben: It’s hard to believe that when you see today how it’s all done with machines.  How did they do it?

Mary: Well with cane knives. 

Ben: A lot of hard work.

Mary: It was, it was very very hard work. Well where we are here, we’re on a hill.  So, the thing about Childers, the Childers area is it’s on volcanic hills.  Bundaberg and Maryborough are flat, so you are coming up into this Hinterland area where they’re hills not mountains, but they are hills.

Ben: Yes, yes, yes.

Mary: So, you get these rolling hills and that was fine when cane was cut by hand. Once people started inventing cane harvesters and also tractors came in rather than horses it was too steep, so they had to relocate. But yes, they would be up at three o’clock in the morning. I mean cane cutting was for certain seasons. So usually sort of June to December depending on how much rain had fallen in the first six months to how much cane was available to cut. So, it was cut by hand.

Ben: Unbelievable! But this region here is amazing with what you do in terms of the product that you’re offering which is, you know your winery. How did you get into doing the winery?

Mary: Well as I said my husband is Irish Sicilians so he is a little bit mad and little bit crazy so I think he’d always had a dream and he had always wanted to plant some grapes because in his family background his grandparents came here as  sixteen and seventeen year-olds. And so, as you know most Italians especially Sicilian always put some grapevines in and I like to make their own wine, so he’d had this background of making some wine with these grandparents and even making champagne and when he was about sixteen from pineapple.

Ben: Oh wow!  And so, do you grow the wine on the property now still?

Mary: Reds on from the dam up that side and then whites this side.  We had them in for about seven years. But if you know this area here. it’s not famous for grapes.  Not that it’s unsuitable it’s just not something that’s been grown commercially for long enough. Humidity is the problem, it’s not the heat.  If you think Greece, Portugal, Spain, the heats not but the humidity is.  So, we had grapes we had a couple of reds in and whites as well, but we had a couple of hailstorms. 

Ben: Oh, right.

Mary: In the six year in the seventh year in November we had a very strong hailstorm which, fruit   because grapes are soft fruit, destroyed it easily. Second one was a tornado, so we stopped growing grapes. We decided let’s concentrate on the wine making side rather than the grape growing side.         

Ben: So, the wine making is a whole process in itself?

Mary: When we first started we rented premises in town and made wine in there, but then to get it bottled we would be shipping it to the South Burnett up to the Kingaroy area, which you can imagine shifting a thousand litres of something if  a bung goes  off on you which did happen.  So eventually we built the winery here and Terry did all the refrigeration. It’s cool all year round.

Ben: Right, okay.

Mary: So, it’s an even temperature all year round which cuts down your like electricity bill. We put solar on as well, so we try to be as environmentally friendly, that’s just the way we live our lives here anyway.    

Ben: Yes. Everybody seems to be like that on these series of podcasts that we’ve been doing. You guys are all leading eco-tourism in in very different ways. You are all doing the solar or looking after the environment. How has tourism changed in the time that you’ve been here? 

Mary: The climate is the big plus, it’s pretty well ideal and look this is the middle of winter. What’s it like?  Beautiful today! 

Ben: Its beautiful! 

Mary: So, it means people can come.  The whale watching at the Harvey Bay area and turtles in the Bundaberg area have really, that’s what’s changed the most I think.

Ben: Really? In the last what ten fifteen years? 

Mary: Yes. 

Ben: Wow!

Mary: The whole marketing, the thrust of looking at Lady Elliot and Lady Musgrave as the most southerly tip of the Great Barrier Reef. It is stunning. 

Ben: So, tell us about what you offer people. If they are coming up this way in this region they can call in and even stay here because you’ve got accommodation.

Mary: That’s right, that’s right. Well we’ve got bed and breakfast accommodation here. People can call in and have tasting, wine tastings and wine purchases, but they can also bring lunch. There’s a verandah where they can have lunch; places in the garden where they can.  So, they can bring their own, buy a bottle of wine, buy a glass of wine. Usually it’s hearing about the district here, a little bit about family history, but also, we took recipes so if they want to buy recipes and some herbs and something.   

Ben: So, you went from teaching to doing all this type of stuff, the tourism stuff.  Which was harder?

Mary: There is still teaching involved because I don’t profess to know everything about wine. I come from a beer drinking family, so it’s been an experiment for me, but I’ve got a fairly sensitive sense of smell and I’m very interested in taste as well.

Ben: Sure.       

Mary: Look it’s a whole learning experience.

Ben: Yeah.

Mary: We make for example, we make sparkling and it’s champagne, but this is not the Champagne                you possibly know the explanation, this is not the Champagne areas so I totally agree with the French, you can’t call it champagne.  Over the years, over the centuries they’ve took the champagne wine from the Champagne district of France was just referred to as champagne.

Ben: That’s right.

Mary: But as you know it’s a district, it’s the geographical entity.

Ben: Yes.

Mary: So, unless it’s made in Champagne and they have every right to, you cannot call it champagne. But we make of we make a sparkling wine made using methode champenoise which means its double fermented, bottle fermented and there’s a lot of handling that goes on.

Ben: Yeah.

Mary: And I think what’s wonderful is to read the story of the women involved in the champagne industry especially one which her name was Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot.  She married into the Clicquot family, I know this is a long story but it has an end to it.  She married into the Cliquot family, married at twenty-one a widow at twentyseven! She worked out how to clarify champagne. 

Ben: Oh really?  There’s a lot of science in the whole thing too isn’t there. It’s all a science. 

Mary: It is, it’s all a science.  And it’s not just hit and miss, I mean cleanliness twenty-four hours. Preparation is ninety eight percent the actual bottling is the two percent, and then there the clean-up afterward so yeah.

Ben: And then Terry was telling me you’ve then got to polish the bottles.

Mary: Yes, go to wash them and polish them, 

Ben: Put the labels on them and then you’ve got to sell them.

Mary: That’s right, that’s right.

Ben: So, it’s a lot of labour involved isn’t it!

Mary:  It’s still a business a but by the same token, it’s um, I always say that every one of the bottles that you open are then has got pride, passion and a respect for tradition in there.  As I said, we don’t use preservatives. So, we don’t use sulphur dioxide or two twenty which is the way wine is been made traditionally for probably five to six thousand years.

Ben: Right okay. 

Mary: So, the natural preservative. People say how does it keep? Well it’s got alcohol. Alcohol is a natural preservative and in the case of reds you’ve got tannin from oak as well. So, I like to know why things happen the way they do and if you explain that to people it gives an appreciation. I think if you’ve cooked a meal you have an appreciation for when you sit down to eat it.

Ben: Yes.

Mary: So, we do find people enjoy that side of that sort of…

Ben: So, when people come to the town or come into this district, what do you recommend that they should do? If they’re only here for a short time, what are three things that they should definitely do you to experience this beautiful area?

Mary: Well of course if you are at Hervey Bay you have got…

Ben: Whales. 

Mary: Whales yes.     

Ben: You can have a whale of a time!

Mary: You can have a whale of a time that’s right!  And generally speaking, if the weather turns a little bit sour, but don’t wait for that to happen, plan the day. But come through to Childers.  Childers itself is an historic town.  The architecture, the buildings that are there are very well preserved.  There is a fantastic visitor information centre. There is an art gallery. Pharmaceutical museum, a military museum as well.

Ben: I’ve read about the military museum, is that fabulous?

Mary: There is a bit of something for everyone.

Ben: Yeah.

Mary: The pharmaceutical museum as well, it was a working pharmacy, tessellated floors, beautiful red cedar outfit. Slow down, walk and have a look at  the architecture. If you are coming you can bring a picnic, you can bring lunch. It can be as simple as some salami, some cheese, a bread stick, sit in the garden, enjoy, it’s the slower pace. I’m fortunate here I see the sunrise every morning.

Ben: Yes!

Mary: And it’s different every day, depends on whether its foggy, but it’s just watching that burst and the colour change.  And at night we had family home over the weekend, and it was Saturday night and we were walking back, and I just said stop, look up! Because there are no lights here.  Look up at the sky southern cross the stars and as we say to people from Europe, make sure that you go out at night and have a look at the stars. Because that’s the one thing, it’s free.

Ben: It’s stunning!

Mary: It is stunning.  So, this whole area here, there is such a variety.

Ben: Now if people want to come and visit you what’s the address or what your website.

Mary: Right okay we’ve got a website, 

Ben: Yes. 

Mary: If you go Google it’ll come up.  It will also come up as the Mango Hill Bed and Breakfast Cottages as well. Where are we? It’s eight Mango Hill Drive, technically it’s Horton.

Ben: Yes. 

Mary: As Terry probably explained our main roads and that. But anyway, if you put in, if you go to the website it will give the directions there and unusually Sat Nav will find us.

Ben: And can people come down and watch you do the bottling? Do you do stuff like that or is it pretty much behind closed doors.  

Mary: Well it’s, it’s because it’s can be pretty hairy. If we have, if people want to come in in groups.  If there are a group of people, we do groups for fifteen in the winery. Okay there’s a charge there.  But if   they just come up the road of the right off the highway, the cellars are free; the tasting is free. But if they are sitting there, we incorporate a bit about the process in the tasting.  But I don’t call it tasting, I call it a wine experience.

Ben: Yeah.

Mary: Because that’s what it is. So, you are surrounded by barrels, the equipment.  Yes, it would be nice to be able.  But it is not as though there is something happening there every day. 

Ben: I understand. I understand.     

Mary: People come in often and ask can we have a tour the winery. 

Ben: Well thank you very much for your story today. It’s very interesting and of course if you’d like to find out more information you can log on to Drive Your Own Adventure, Ingenia Holidays have all these great offerings and will tell you where to go. A short drive up the hill and Mary will be there ready at the door at the wine cellar. 

Mary: But the only thing is if you are going to be making a special trip, give me a quick call because we do have funerals and the dentist to go to. Believe it or not, and people do that. It’s a quick call you home today, are you home tomorrow? We hate to disappoint.

Ben: Yeah.

Mary: But we still have um. We still have… 

Ben: Commitments.  

Mary: Exactly.

Ben: Exactly, all right thank you very much for your time today.         

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