The quiet rise of Heathcote’s new reds and whites

By Vanessa Wiltshire

Viticulturalist Hugh Jones is a fan of reds — in more ways than one.

Growing up in Victoria’s Mallee at Manangatang, he has settled with his wife and two children at Corop at the northern end of the Heathcote wine region.

Famed for its fire-brick red Cambrian soils, the earth is perfect for growing grapes.

Humis Vineyard is owned by Hugh and his wife Michelle (Missy). It is, by name, the perfect epithet. A melange of the couple’s first names, it matches their philosophy and practice: ‘fine wine from the ground up’.

Each with rural upbringings, Hugh and Michelle developed successful careers in the corporate sector before returning to the land.

After two years of searching, the pair chanced upon a property on the Heathcote-Rochester Rd north of Colbinabbin in 2010.

“It had it all,” Hugh said.

“Access to irrigation water, plus a vein of the fire-brick red Cambrian soil Heathcote is famous for."

Hugh, who built his career in IT management spent the first few years after high school in the viticulture and wine industry.

“The lifestyle was great,” he said.

“But as much as I loved working in the vineyards, I realised that a financial future was probably not going to happen on a pruning wage.”

Hugh worked in a variety of roles in the oil and gas and heavy construction industries that took him around Australia and the world.

After 17 years, he and Missy had the capital to buy land, start Humis and build a house for their growing family.

Missy, who is studying a Diploma in Winemaking at GOTAFE in Wangaratta, is Humis’ winemaker.

“Back in 2010 the Australian wine industry was on its knees. A four-year drought was in full swing," Hugh said.

“But I’m an optimist and this has been a long-term ambition for both of us.

"Property prices were at an all-time low. The decision — to us — was obvious”.

The pair started planting "vigorously" in 2011; 23000 vines in total.  Humis produces four grape varietals, three red and one white: grenache, carmenère, shiraz and marsanne.

 “Shiraz is Heathcote’s stalwart," Hugh said.

"But many other varietals grow just as well here, particularly here at the northern end where there is access to irrigation and a steady movement of air."

Though Hugh says there are excellent opportunities in export markets, he and Missy are focusing on the domestic market while they work on the volume required for entry to the export markets.

“While we are doing particularly well with grenache and carmenère domestically, we believe, much the same as Australia’s palate developed over the past two decades, the Chinese palate will also develop and embrace new varietals,” he said.

“It will evolve and when it does, there will be even more opportunity. However, for the moment  we are experiencing success locally, especially with Melbourne restaurants.”

In terms of outlook, Hugh is bullish.

“The Australian wine industry is as healthy as it’s ever been, and the price of fruit has been slowly climbing over the last four years.

“Of course there must be an end point, but I can see it continuing for the medium term.

“For the Heathcote region I think we’re going to see further diversification and growth, particularly with the Rhone and Italian varietals. There is also an incredibly strong demand for rose.

"We are moving out of the light fruity era of the sav blanc and pinot gris into more structured and textured whites.

"The spotlight is shifting to whites like marsanne, fiano and even greco.

“Marsanne is an established varietal with moderate acidity and excellent mid-palate richness.  I’m quietly confident its day will come.”