The Robertsons of Gundagai have transformed themselves from wool growers to vintners on the smell of a greasy floor.
Story By Annabelle Brayley
Just off the track winding back to Gundagai, NSW, the “Nargoon” woolshed stands quietly, resounding with the ghostly echoes of bleating Merinos, the calls of shearers on the board and the bark of dogs in the yards. The wool table is dark with age and the floor glows with the patina of the many thousands of greasy fleeces that have crossed its board. The overhead gear hangs in place and there are handpieces, combs and cutters lying on the bench, ready to roll.
While it still has all the makings of a working shearing shed, it has been meticulously transformed into a cellar door for the boutique vineyard that is, these days, the core business of the Robertson family. Back in its heyday, the 1416 hectares that was then Nargoon ran 8000 Merinos and a couple of hundred head of cattle, while small crops and a large vegetable garden ensured its self-sufficiency.
Nargoon lies on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River, six kilometres west of Gundagai. As a consequence of the manoeuvrings of an intergenerational, extended family partnership, Nargoon has been reduced to 27ha, six of which are now under grapevines. The Robertsons run a small flock of sheep as a vegetation management tool and still orchestrate a flourishing vegetable garden, which provides for the kitchens.
Originally purchased in 1911 by James Ochiltree (“JO”) Robertson, Nargoon was subdivided off “Kimo”, which had been settled in the 1830s. The Robertsons came from western Victoria and JO was heading for Blackall in Queensland when a fellow traveller on the train convinced him to stop off and look at buying land in the Gundagai area. He immediately set about building the homestead. Sheep from Nargoon were mustered across the hill to the Kimo woolshed for shearing, until 1941 when the Robertsons built their own.
JO’s son Jimmy and his wife Margot took over running the property in 1952. Their five children – Tom, Kim, Chris, Peter and Winks (Wendy) – have all been involved in Nargoon at one time or another. Having bought out their other two siblings in recent years, Chris, Winks and Pete, who lives near Nyngan and works in the mines at Cobar, now own Nargoon Vineyard and Cellar Door. Chris’s husband, Andy Macdonald, manages the vineyard while Winks’s husband, Sap Sutherland, pitches in to help when he’s not away contract fencing.
“The decision to enter the wine industry followed an ABARE [Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics] report in 1993 citing that Australia wanted to double its output of table wine,” Andy says. “We planted all chardonnay, as it blends as well as being a single-variety grape. We learnt the business on the fly, going to field days and seminars and taking a lot of advice from Greg Johnston, a well-regarded viticulturist for Cowra Vineyards. The first vines are 17 years old. We have since changed over to some reds, which Shane Hackett from the Department of Agriculture grafted for us. Hence a white grape becomes a red one. We’ve gone into cabernet, shiraz and a sauvignon blanc as well as maintaining some chardonnay.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #66
Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2009