Borry Gartrell grows grapes, cherries, plums and truffles but it’s his heritage apples that set him apart, their taste evoking memories of a slower, simpler world.
Story By Sheridan Rogers
It’s a crisp autumn day at Orange, in central New South Wales, and Borry Gartrell has just unloaded the last of his pinot noir grapes. “We had a frost here this morning and had to get them in,” he says, stepping out of the tractor. “They’re perfectly ripe so it should be a good vintage.”
It’s been an irregular season that has affected horticulture in the Orange region in various ways. “The whole season was terrifying,” Borry says. “In December the vines were hit by buckets of rain so they grew with extraordinary vigour. We had to hedge them and control the mildew. Then in February we had another burst of rain, which caused a further threat of mildew and botrytis. We’ll get back to picking apples next week. The grapes are a priority at the moment.”
Situated high on a hill overlooking the prosperous Towac Valley, Borrodell on the Mount is a picturesque 32-hectare property where Borry and his wife Gaye Stuart-Nairn grow vines (pinot noir, chardonnay, gewurtztraminer, sauvignon blanc), heritage apples, cherries, plums and truffles. As if that’s not enough to keep them busy, they also run an Italian-style restaurant called Sisters Rock, a cellar door for their wines, a wedding reception area and cottage-style accommodation.
A steep winding road threads its way through vineyards and roses up to the restaurant and reception area. The views from here over the valley and hills beyond are as good as any you’ll get in Tuscany. It’s also at the top of the hill where Borry proudly grows two hectares of heritage apples.
Just 10 minutes from the Orange CBD, along Lake Canobolas Road, the rich, red basalt soils and 1000-metre elevation ensure fabulous cool-climate wines and produce. Borry’s green thumb and aesthetic sense have also helped to transform the landscape.
“When I bought the property 40 years ago it had been used for growing vegetables, which was inappropriate on these slopes because every time they ploughed the soil it moved a metre down the hill,” he says. “I spent two years shifting the soil back up and establishing a major dam on the southern slope, which holds four to five years’ supply of water.”
He then planted the whole property with Red Delicious apples, a move he now regrets. “We were all given bad advice back then,” he says. “It was about 30 years ago when the supermarkets were moving in and making significant marketing changes. They told us that people would buy only good-looking apples and that the Red Delicious held their colour well. Greengrocers just disappeared, which meant there was no one encouraging them to try different varieties of fruit.”
At that time Orange was known as the apple city but when the industry sank, many of the orchards were bulldozed and replaced with grapevines and cherries. “Luckily I’d grown up eating old varieties of apples from my father’s orchard and had taken cuttings from them, which I’d grafted onto some of the Red Delicious trees,” Borry says. “I did it purely for my own pleasure because I remembered the taste of those apples from my childhood.”
This story excerpt is from Issue #67
Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2009