If a husband and wife winemaking team can survive the long days of harvest together, they’ve probably got a pretty solid relationship. Tim and Bec Duffy could vouch for that. Running a small winery nestled in Tasmania’s breathtaking Tamar Valley, the Duffy’s produce quality boutique wines with the help of their two boys and a very opinionated pet pig named Pinot. Emilie Reynolds reports.
Tim and Bec Duffy seem to have everything sorted. Consistently mentioned as one of the must-visit wineries in Tasmania, Holm Oak Vineyard has been leased by the duo for almost a decade. With Tim nurturing the fruit and Bec crafting the wine, they form one of the few small, family-owned wineries to grow, make and bottle their own wines on site.
Born and bred in Nyah, near Swan Hill in Victoria, Tim comes from a long line of viticulturists. An agronomist with extensive viticultural experience, Tim claims his experience in the wine industry began shortly after his birth.
“I was born in a vineyard and breast-fed by an old Sultana vine,” he joked. “Even used a vine leaf for a nappy.”
Although he has been surrounded by the wine industry his whole life, Tim said it took a short stint as a taxation accountant and a decade as a viti-agronomist before he gave into his calling as a viticulturist.
“My mum and dad tried hard to get me out of it, then something in my genes brought me back,” Tim said.
Going on to complete dozens of vintages, Tim said he spent most of his early career working in his home town.
“Blockies don’t refer to them as vintages and we tend to plant our roots fairly deep in the one location,” Tim said. “Not sure we keep count either but it must be about 25 in Nyah and eight at Holm Oak in Tassie.”
Like Tim, Bec was introduced to the wine industry at a young age after her father planted a few vines on their family farm on King Island.
“Even though I did not grow up in a wine area and my parents didn’t drink wine, I knew from the time I was 14 that I wanted to be a winemaker,” Bec said. “I enjoyed agriculture, biology and chemistry at school and thought that winemaking might be fun.”
After an early round of work experience at Pipers Brook, Bec headed straight to Adelaide University to study a bachelor of agricultural science, majoring in oenology.
Bec completed vintages across Australia and the United States before returning home to take on a life-changing opportunity.
“Holm Oak had been on the market for a while,” Bec explained. “I was working in Western Australia when my mum rang up and asked if I would be interested in moving back to Tasmania and having my own vineyard and winery. Mum and dad would buy the property and I would lease it from them.”
While Bec and Tim were both enjoying career success separately, they decided to embrace the opportunity to run their very own property and business, a move that ultimately paid off.
Almost a decade later, Tim and Bec are responsible for Holm Oak Vineyard’s reputation as one of Tasmania’s best wineries.
Recently winning Gourmet Traveller’s cellar door award for best additional experience, Tim and Bec have made a name for themselves through a highly unconventional marketing tool.
“The reason we won the award is because we have a pet pig called Pinot that people can meet and feed at cellar door,” Bec said. “He also tweets as @PinotdPig if you would like to see what he gets up to.”
Along with injecting a little bit of fun into their winery, Tim and Bec both work hard to produce their highly regarded wines. Bec said a lot of their success could be put down to Tim’s natural intuition as a viticulturist.
“Tim once said to me that just because your kids behave a certain way one year, doesn’t mean they’ll behave the same way the next year, and vines are like that,” Bec explained. “You can do as much testing and keep as many records as you like but at the end of the day you need to get out in the vineyard, look at how the vines are behaving and respond appropriately. Tim is very good at doing that.”
Bec said while it was hard work running a successful small winery, the size allowed more flexibility in their approach to winemaking and a willingness to experiment.
“This may sound a little cliché, but you have to be passionate about what you are doing to make it work, otherwise the effort and hours that you put in for the money you get out the other end wouldn’t seem worth it,” Bec said. “It also takes time to build a successful business and brand. We have been here for almost nine years now and are just starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
While Tim insisted that working together with Bec was “all good, no bad”, Bec said surprisingly they still struggle to find time together.
“I still complain to Tim that I don’t see him enough as he is generally in the vineyard and I am in the winery or office so we don’t see that much of each other during the day,” Bec said. “And we don’t always agree on when we should pick so there are a few arguments during vintage.”
Minor worries aside, Bec said the best part about working with Tim was that they both had the same commitment and understanding of what needed to be done to ensure they had a successful business.
“We are also lucky to be making wine in a region where wine is made in relatively small quantities and there is high demand, but you can’t be complacent,” Bec said. “You have to continuously work on improving all aspects of the business, implement new ideas and improving brand awareness.”
While a small breather might be on the horizon in the form of a holiday, the couple said they try to find time to relax with their kids.
“I like to hang out with our two boys Max and Will playing footy, fishing and growing fruit and vegies,” Tim said.
When they’re not in the vineyard, Bec said the couple could be found tasting barrels and seeing all of their hard work evolving.
“The weather in Tasmania is a constant challenge, but it is also what makes it such a special place to make wine,” she said.
Both Tim and Bec said their biggest achievement has been raising their family and building a successful and sustainable business together.
“Our philosophy is to make single vineyard wines with personality and character that reflect us and the place where we live. Rustic, down to earth, not super polished, but genuine and authentic.”