Culture, caring vintage blend

Kim CousinsCountryman

Avonbrook Wines is a winery with a difference, combining native American culture with the food, wine and environment of the Avon Valley.

Garry Williams and Carol Belshaw set up the winery with the local community in mind.

At that stage, Carol had never been to a winery but knew exactly what she wanted.

“It started as a passion,” she said. “We came to Clackline looking for a property with a big shed.

“We found this winery, it was really run down. The vines required attention and the property was in need of extensive work.”

Now the 4.45-hectare property produces predominantly Shiraz grapes, with about half the area planted with vines. It’s not certified organic but Garry and Carol keep the vineyard and wines as chemical-free as possible.

“We always aim to have minimal impact on our natural bush and environment,” Carol said. “With GM products in the valley, it’s not worth going down the organic track.”

But it’s more than just a winery — Avonbrook Wines is a space for the whole community.

The local P&C is just one local group which uses the winery as a meeting point and Garry and Carol support schools and community groups in the Avon Valley with fundraising.

As well as a range of table wines and ports, cakes, tea and coffee, Carol’s famous cheeseboards featuring local and Australian produce are also available, with locally made condiments for sale.

“I have a whole lot of cheeses that you may not usually try,” Carol said. “There are eight to 10 different types of cheese — I want visitors to have a different experience.”

Garry and Carol also share the winemaking process with others from the local area.

“We pick the grapes and have two winemakers, we discuss with them what we want,” Carol said.

“Our labels all feature pieces of art from two artists — one is from Perth and another from the Avon Valley. It’s a way of promoting their art and creating a sense of ownership. We work hard at looking after locals.”

The couple have indeed worked hard over the past four years to turn around the reputation of the winery and make it a diverse and viable business.

“We wanted to create a place that was a bit of a sanctuary, a place where you can metaphorically take your shoes off at the front gate,” Carol said. “Our aim was to create a relaxed and ambient feeling, a place to relax and reconnect with your forgotten self.”

This has been achieved by creating a flow between indoors and outdoors while following native American tradition and beliefs.

“It’s all about honouring mother earth and cherishing what we have,” Carol said. “It comes from the heart — we have a genuine love and appreciation of native American culture.”

Accommodation is also offered at Avonbrook Wines. There is a choice of two units, one with a native American theme and the other with a Zen theme.

Another side of their business, Lone Wolf Trading Company, imports and exports native American products.

“We added the shop in to create something a little bit different,” Carol said.

Visitors come from as far away as Corrigin and Cunderdin to experience Avonbrook Wines and Carol has found attending local shows and field days helps promote the business outside the immediate area.

She also networks with visitor’s centres and other wineries in the region to spread the word and cross promote.

As a result, the winery is popular with bus tours and one of the biggest areas of growth within the business is tourism, mainly from community group bookings.

“I guess we’re not traditional in the sense of a sterile environment,” Carol said. “It’s about more than just selling wines. We want people to take more away with them.

“Give people 15 minutes and you’ll see their shoulders drop. They can’t help but relax here.”

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