For 29 years Tod Warmer set off wearing a suit and tie and carrying a briefcase in methodical fashion to work in a bank totally oblivious to the day’s weather. Given his rise up the corporate ladder – returning from Melbourne in 2006 – he obviously served NAB well.
Now almost two years later, a typical day for Tod is wearing his “daggies”, dodging brown snakes and deliberating on the leaves at his Mt Jagged vineyard. “See how they have light green tips and there are still leaves growing up?” he asks. “It means there is still a lot of soil moisture in the ground and they are still trying to grow. We want them to stop growing so they can focus their energy into the grapes.”
For someone who previously knew nothing about wines apart from the common light-hearted confession of drinking it, and not having heard of Mount Jagged – 20 minutes either way of McLaren Vale and Victor Harbor on the main South Road – this bloke knows his stuff.
However, given his previous role involving assessing financial risks, and the much-publicised scaling of the wine industry because of our glut of grapes across the nation factored by phenomenal new development of vineyards in China and South America which continue to threaten our market, one would have thought Tod would have taken on anything but a vineyard.
It all gets down to belief, he claims. “I can honestly see the potential in this Mt Jagged Wines enterprise and with other relatively small vineyards how we can collectively make this wine region become better recognised for what it is – a producer of fine wines,” Tod says.
The problem, he adds, is that few actually realise this region exists, and the cluster of vineyards usually get drawn into the Currency Creek wine region which varies in climate and soils. “Maybe we should become part of the Adelaide Hills wine region because our climate is the same,” he suggests.
“We certainly would like to see the southern Fleurieu get the same exposure as the Barossa and McLaren Vale wine regions.
“Overall, the industry is still struggling a bit. In some cases before the buyers buy the grapes they actually taste them within five or seven days of harvest. That can be tough; not knowing until then if someone wants your grapes, and it’s just one of the challenges. For us right now it’s about getting more of our wine into restaurants and hotels within the region.
“Like a lot of things, there is a test of your resolve, but we have also made wine – I find that so exciting.”
Tod also has a vision of turning Mt Jagged into a day out in the vines soaking up a picnic atmosphere amidst spectacular views, hosting weddings and functions, again celebrating the arts like the SALA Festival and obviously making the finest of wines. This amazing venture from the staid days of banking certainly differs to making and selling your own wine.
Tod calls himself the vineyard manager, and his wife Suzanne, the cellar door and marketing manager. They talk of starting cheese and lunch platters and in the winter
putting on thick homemade soup with chunky bread. They want to work with produce people who do the paddock-to-plate experience creating a marvellous opportunity to expand the gourmet farm-type thing. Most of all, they want to keep it local and give people a taste of what the Fleurieu Peninsula has to offer in artisan-type of produce and art.
Suzanne, a British lass who grew up in Melbourne, jokes it was her hippy dream of running a menagerie of darling little animals and big ones like horses on 20 acres for something to do that led them to thinking about entering the grape business. “Now we have 150 acres of vines, a dog, a cat and five chooks,” she says.
“I was nervous at the start… I used to get in here to work the Pinot block in the morning and feel challenged even before I had begun. ‘What have we done?’ I’d ask myself. Time has moved on, we have learned more and wine has been made, but there are still times when I get anxious. Now we have to work on making sales, but it’s all part of the adventure.
“I am happy. Before all this I was in childcare part time, and it’s nice knowing the babies don’t move anywhere now… I know where those grapes are at all times.”
Tod and Suzanne, who have teenage children, Sydney and Rex, obviously have no regrets about entering the wine game. When they moved from Melbourne to Adelaide – where Tod grew up – because of his work, they liked it so much he resisted the chance to return to Melbourne in a different banking role and took on what he described as an “amazing seachange”.
“We decided to take on something different,” Tod said. “I thought this is where I want to be; where I am going to put my effort into for my own dreams and vision.
“I had no background or sound knowledge for the wine industry. It was to a degree daunting, but there are a lot of people around here willing to help you. There are some really wonderful people in the industry that continue to give me advice and help me along the way.
“We owe a lot to our financial planner David Nelson, who convinced us to take this on, and our viticulturalist David McCormack, who has been a mentor. He has got me to a point where I know what is going on like when to clean the pipes, when I need to do something in the filter shed… now I need to go and look at the vines.
“And there is the winemaker Simon Parker in McLaren Vale who guides us through every step of the process and working hands-on all the way; the list goes on.”
The result is a few bronze medals among a range of fine wines including a sparkling red, Shiraz, Cabernet, Merlot, Semillon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
“The Shiraz has a spicy vanilla taste about it… a bit of chocolate in there. It’s young, it’s fruity and it’s not too old and dusty,” Tod said. “The sparkling red; I just love the bubbles. We call it black forest cake in a bottle; it has cherries and plums. A lot of people think it’s sweet, but it’s just the fruit coming through. There’s a bit of Shiraz in there to give it some punch as well.” No wonder he got out of the bank.