She'll be apples with wine at Donnybrook

31 Dec, 2011 02:00 AM
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Pam Foster, in the Thomson Brook Estate cellar door, was one of the first wine makers to grow grapes in the Donnybrook region.
Pam Foster, in the Thomson Brook Estate cellar door, was one of the first wine makers to grow grapes in the Donnybrook region.

"YOU can't grow wine grapes in Donnybrook."

Pam and Terry Foster were given this warning by more than one person when they decided to move from the Perth Hills down to the idyllic South West town to become winemakers in 1993.

But the pair refused to be disheartened, and 15 years later they are having the last laugh at their flourishing vineyard, Thomson Brook Estate.

The couple moved to Donnybrook to retire, but have found themselves busier than ever after taking on the 34 hectare property in the Preston Valley, seven kilometres east of Donnybrook.

While they had little practical knowledge of viticulture, with the help of a few friends in the industry and their four children - plus a bit of trial and error - they launched themselves into a full scale wine operation.

The Fosters planted four hectares of wine grapes and another five of citrus and stone fruit, which they sell locally ensuring they have their hands full year-round.

"The original plan was to diversify, so it keeps us going and we are always pruning or picking something," Pam said.

The wide variety of grapes planted in the loamy soils of the estate is testament to Donnybrook's status as a bountiful wine region.

Under their Thomson Brook Estate label, the couple grow chardonnay, semillon, verdello and riesling white grapes, and shiraz, cabernet, merlot, pinot noir and the Italian variety Barbera in the reds.

They also make a port and a sweet wine, which are among their best sellers.

The Fosters handpick all their grapes, and bottle the wine on site.

A rammed earth cellar door was built on the property in 2000.

While it is far from the 'retirement' lifestyle the couple had been planning, they have become integral parts of the development of the Donnybrook wine industry.

Thomson Brook Estate was the first registered winery in Donnybrook, and now produces 5000 litres of wine a year.

It has since been joined by more than a dozen other local wineries, placing the town on the map as a premier wine region, and offering a unique alternative to the more populated Margaret River region.

The wines from these vineyards will be showcased to locals and tourists at the upcoming Donnybrook Food and Wine Festival, which will be held on Saturday, February 4 at the town's amphitheatre.

Pam is on the organising committee for the event, which she said was becoming increasingly popular as people discovered just how many beautiful wines are produced in the region.

Entry is free, and visitors will be able to buy a glass before wandering around the various stalls and sampling the variety of wines on offer.

Local produce, such as cheeses, bread and olive oils, will also be on display.

Pam said one of the crowd favourites was the annual waiter race, which puts backpacker workers through their paces, wearing an apron, bow tie and trying to run while carrying a tray full of glasses.

This year's festival will see celebrity chefs Daniela and Stefania from My Kitchen Rules take part in a cook-off, while visitors will also get the chance to take part in the great grape stomp.

About 10 local wineries are expected to take part in the festival.

Donnybrook growers are also gearing up for the annual Apple Festival, which takes place over the Easter weekend.

Marilyn Hickman from the Donnybrook Visitor's Centre said an increasing number of people were becoming familiar with Donnybrook as a tourism destination.

She said just a sampling of the culinary delights on offer included farm fresh marron, organic beef, rich olive oil, local fruit and vegetable produce, nuts and sun dried fruits.

"Liquid refreshments would range from wines that tantalise even the most discerning wine connoisseurs to crisp, refreshing ciders and cool, revitalising apple juice," she said.

She said more than 10,000 people are expected to converge on Donnybrook for the Apple Festival, which will be held at Egan Park.

"It started off prompting the apple and pear industry, and while they are still our primary industry it has diversified a lot, and now wine and other produce has been added to the festival," she said.

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