The lifestyle and opportunities available here in the Barossa Valley can have a huge pull to bring travelling sons back home to their roots. Grape grower Karl Schiller was working overseas in New Zealand – where he met his now fiancé, Natalie – when the time came to move home and take over the family farm. Karl now works alongside his parents to manage their Mengler Hill property near Angaston, and is part of the Grape Barossa Next Crop group
“Why wouldn’t you want to live in the Barossa?” says Karl. “I always had plans to come back, and then when it came to it, the timing was right. Actually, I think this is a pretty exciting time to be in the Barossa Valley, there are some really good people around and some exciting things going on. Some of the guys who have been working for bigger, more famous producers in the valley are now doing their own thing. Places like Taste Eden Valley and Artisans have producers that may not be traditional Barossa, but it’s great stuff.”
After high school, Karl studied a Bachelor of Viticulture at Adelaide University and thought about teaching, but his career path was quickly decided by some practical work in Western Australia. Karl believes the future for the Barossa lies in a greater focus on sub-regions – and the varieties planted there – and succession planning is going to be an increasingly important issue. “The fruit really is different from different areas so once consumers like Barossa Valley wine, it gives people more layers of Barossa to explore. We’re already starting to see this with wineries making sub-regional wines, and I think it will continue,” says Karl.
“When you look at the average age of the Barossa Valley grower, I think succession planning is going to be pretty important – and I guess we’ll find out soon enough!” says Karl. “But I think community is the most important thing, having family working together. We covered that in Next Crop and it was interesting to hear what people thought about it, we had some really good speakers.
Karl’s vine management philosophy involves being in the vineyard as much as possible, looking into the canopy to see what’s happening. A lot of their vineyard operations are done on bike now, but Karl has also been trying another technique, which took a bit of trial and error to get right. “We’re trying sheep in the vineyard at the moment to keen the grass down, as we have a permanent sward mid-row,” says Karl. “We actually tried putting some lambs into the vineyard during the growing season as well, but they found the grapes pretty quickly so that didn’t last very long!”
Karl is happy with the results of the 2012 vintage. Yields may be down a bit, but the absence of any big heat spikes has meant reasonable ripening weather overall and a solid crop. “Like every grower in the valley, I’ll tell you the fruit is fantastic,” Karl jokes.