Dogged rescue inspires transformation

Rebecca TurnerThe West Australian
The West logo

Most properties have a dog, and sometimes there is an interesting story behind how a family came about finding their beloved, furry best friend. There is such a story behind the dog that White Dog Farm was named after.

Owners of the Lower Chittering vineyard, olive grove and luxury accommodation property, Joanne and Peter Gunn, rescued their beloved white dog Nick while Peter was working as a career firefighter in Darwin.

Nick, a bull terrier cross, soon became a treasured family member and moved with the Gunns in 1999 to Chittering, where he was happy to oversee the development of their newly purchased 17ha farm.

Nick lived to the ripe old age of 15 at White Dog Farm, and since then the Gunns have rescued three more dogs - none of them white.

While the Gunns' property is now a magnificent luxury retreat, it was not always this way. Joanne and Peter bought the block in 1997 and have since put in a huge amount of work to transform it from a bare paddock into native gardens, a 2ha olive grove and 2ha vineyard.

"After we had paid off our mortgage on our Perth house, we started looking for a tree change," Joanne said.

Looking for a good location to develop a country bed and breakfast near Perth soon became their dream.

"We started looking around York, which was a popular area for bed and breakfast accommodation at the time, however after several return visits to friends in the Chittering area, we soon found the ideal property," Joanne said.

Both Peter and Joanne continued working while they developed their property, initially only visiting the land on weekends and then moving from the shed they built first into the cottage, while building the rammed-earth homestead.

"We moved into the homestead in Christmas of 2000. The homestead comprises two bed and breakfast suites, which we began running six months later," Joanne said.

"We also began providing luxury accommodation in the Cabernet Cottage at the start of 2000."

Joanne said from the beginning, both the olive grove and vineyard were developed to complement the luxury accommodation they planned to provide at White Dog Farm.

"What we would farm was always dependent on the property we bought. We wanted to do something that would complement our property and the surrounding area, as well as be of interest to guests," Joanne said.

"Olives was a no brainer, as they are a beautiful and hardy tree, even if you do nothing with them.

"The vines are also hardy and provide green foliage during summer."

Joanne said they were always excited at the prospect of growing vines and making their own wine, and early on they met locals Marilyn and George Corderoy, of Isis Estate, who helped them to develop an understanding of vineyard workings.

The rootlings for the vineyard were grown from Cabernet vine cuttings acquired from the Swan Valley and Merlot cuttings from a local vineyard.

The first White Dog Farm vintage was a 2005 methode champenoise, a dry, palest of pink bubbly made in traditional champagne style.

Joanne said they considered themselves a boutique winery, as they only sold their wine through their cellar door. Since 2005, they have produced five vintages.

Joanne said they had found the Chittering area was popular for Perth locals during autumn, winter and spring, with summer sales supported by locals.

"The bed and breakfast side of the business has been great for us," Joanne said. "Most people coming to stay with us are getting away from the city to relax and unwind, which makes my job as hostess very easy."

Perfect planning *

Joanne said when planning what to do with their property, it was always their intention to make it so that it could be managed by both herself and Peter.

"We have kept the vineyard to five acres with the goal that it would eventually be able to sustain itself without reticulated water," she said.

Joanne said they started as complete beginners when it came to growing grape vines and olive trees. They hand pick their grapes between January and February each year, and sometimes as late as March. Once picked, the grapes are transported to their winemaker, Josh Davenport, of Myattsfield Vineyard in Carmel.

The vines are hand-pruned annually between June and August.

The olive grove fits in well with the vineyard, as the olives are picked between April and May.

"Between the two of us, we can pick up to 500kg of olives over two days," Joanne said.

"Within 24 hours of picking, the olives are taken to Jumunga Olives in Carabooda where they are pressed and returned to us as pure cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, which we then bottle and sell here at our cellar door."

Before planting their olive grove in 2000, Joanne and Peter attended olive grove conferences in New South Wales to determine the variatels they would plant, the setting out of the grove, maintenance of the trees and marketing of the final product to Australian consumers.

Of the 380 trees in the grove, there are five varieties - Pendolino, WA Mission (as grown down the road at New Norcia), Frantoio, Coratina and Manzanillo.

Joanne said as olives were biannual fruiters, the oil produced from the grove was dependent on the varietals dominating that particular year.

White Dog Farm has had its extra virgin olive oil judged at the Perth Royal Show in 2004, 2007 and 2012, receiving a bronze and two silver medals.

The Gunns have also been active in showing their wines and developing awareness of Chittering as a wine-growing area.

"We are members of the Perth Hills Vignerons Association and, as members of the Chittering Wine Trail, were heavily involved in the inauguration of Taste of Chittering, which has now become an annual event for the area," Joanne said.

"The bed and breakfast has introduced guests to the beauty of the countryside outside of Perth and the feedback has been tremendous.

"It was a positive step for us and we are very happy that we took the leap."

Fifteen years on from buying their beautiful property, both Joanne and Peter feel they are now ready for a new challenge and have put White Dog Farm up for sale.

"We love our property and what we have achieved but it's time for a change - in the meantime, we will enjoy every day, as living here is like being on a constant holiday," Joanne said.

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