‘People told us we were mad, that it would never work’


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He can speak. And he could make wine.

When he first got here to Canberra from Albury in 1967, he was working on the CSIRO with the likes of Edgar Riek and John Kirk. The three scientists went on to change into pioneers of the Canberra wine business.

“I used to be working at CSIRO doing analysis into insect pest administration. The folks there favored wine and meals and so just a few of us determined to develop grapes,” he says.

Ken Helm planted his first vines in Murrumbateman 45 years ago.

Ken Helm planted his first vines in Murrumbateman 45 years in the past.Credit score:Alex Ellinghausen

“I used to be the one one who had any sort of expertise … my great-great-grandparents planted the primary vines in Rutherglen. I grew up as a child pruning the grapes vines round the home in Albury the place we lived … and my work with pest administration helped.

“Folks instructed us we had been mad, that it might by no means work, that it was too chilly, that grapes had been solely grown within the Hunter Valley or the Barossa, you didn’t develop grapes close to Canberra.

“However I knew that Robert Campbell had grown grapes at Duntroon Home, that Hamilton Hume was making wine close to Yass within the 1850s.

“I knew it may very well be completed.”

Within the early 1970s he began discussions with the Yass Shire Council, hoping to buy 5 acres to construct a home and plant some vines. They instructed him he had to purchase 200 acres.

“I stated I solely need 25 acres all up, what I’m going to do with the opposite 175 acres, they usually stated ‘run sheep’ and I laughed,” he says.

Helm owns 30 acres now. There’s 11 acres of vines, and some sheep. There are devoted processing sheds for the riesling and the cabernet, and a home the place he and his spouse Judith raised their three youngsters – Matthew, Natalie and Stephanie – after they moved to the winery in 1978.

He remembers the primary time somebody exterior the household tasted his wine. Considerably fittingly, I believe as I’m having fun with the second pattern of riesling, it was a Canberra Instances journalist, Jan Hodgkinson, who lived close to him in Murrumbateman on the time.

Ken Helm in 2003: "We take great pride in this district and what people have achieved."

Ken Helm in 2003: “We take nice delight on this district and what folks have achieved.”
Credit score:Canberra Instances

“Jan came visiting for a go to and I stated ‘I’ve simply made our first riesling, did you need a style?’” he says.

“I favored it, however I used to be scared about what she may assume, questioning if she’d prefer it.

“She took a sip and stated, ‘I can drink that’.

“We entered that wine within the Forbes wine present and it gained a trophy. There have been solely 5 wineries within the present thoughts you, nevertheless it was our first win.”

Within the 2019 version of the Halliday Wine Companion, James Halliday had this to say of Helm:

“Over time he has achieved many issues, by way of dogged persistence on the one hand, imaginative and prescient on the opposite. Riesling has been an all-consuming curiosity, evidenced by his rieslings of constantly prime quality. He has additionally given a lot to the wine neighborhood, extending from the slim focus of the Canberra District to the broad canvas of the world of riesling: in 2000 he established the Canberra Worldwide Riesling Problem.”

Helm attributes quite a lot of his success to his early days on the CSIRO.

“I labored there for 20 years – it was the halcyon days when the CSIRO was there to interrupt down the limitations of information,” he says.

“We might sit round at morning tea, we’d query every little thing about our analysis, ask ‘why?’ about every little thing we had been doing.

Ken Helm: “That probably sums up my attitude towards things, ask lots of questions."

Ken Helm: “That most likely sums up my angle in direction of issues, ask plenty of questions.”Credit score:Karleen Minney

“Even now I query every little thing. I would like solutions to all types of issues: the place did the phrase trivia come from? Why is it known as Antarctica?

“I rely steps after I stroll up them, I can title each Australian prime minister and their delivery date [and he can, I note, when John Gorton (September 9, 1911) randomly comes up in conversation later].

“That most likely sums up my angle in direction of issues, ask plenty of questions.

“I have a look at the CSIRO now, three-year packages funded by business. We had been there within the days when it was totally federally funded and it was 15- to 20-year packages. You had time to consider issues and ask questions.”

In 1988 he took an early retirement and made the “silly determination” to work full-time on the vineyard. He was distracted once more, over time, by the native council, on which he served for 12 years together with two phrases as mayor. He additionally lobbied authorities to make modifications within the wine business and helped set up the Unbiased Wineries Affiliation to assist smaller winemakers have a say.

He can’t select his finest or worst years.

“Stephanie was born in 1986, the yr Halley’s Comet got here by. We opened some wines at her wedding ceremony [to Ben Osborne, Helm’s vineyard manager] they usually had been implausible.

“Nevertheless it hasn’t all the time been simple. I’m an optimist, nevertheless it was an enormous wrestle early on.

“There have been some fairly robust instances, we had been dwelling fairly shut hand to mouth at instances. I don’t assume many different folks would have continued however I had this religion in it, in what we had been doing, how the district would go.

“Judith and I’ve been married for 50 years subsequent yr. She’s been a affected person girl, citing the three youngsters with me operating across the countryside.

“However we take nice delight on this district and what folks have achieved. We sit up on the deck up on the home on a summer season’s night and look out over the winery.

“Folks speak about million-dollar views from Sydney Harbour and issues, however we glance out throughout the vines, right down to the creek – we may very well be in Tuscany. It’s lovely and we’re very fortunate.”

Karen Hardy is a reporter at The Canberra Instances.

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