Snowdens dark horses in wine industry

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Sean SmithThe West Australian
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Geologists Phil and Viv Snowden never had any intention of sitting back and watching the world go by after the sale of their Perth-based global mining consultancy to Downer EDI nearly a decade ago.

"We didn't want to leave Snowden Consulting, step into the ether and do nothing," Viv recalls.

"So we were looking for a project, and it's been that. It's kept us busy."

On Wednesday, their "project", Singlefile Wines, added to its trophy cabinet by picking up noted wine critic James Halliday's inaugural Dark Horse Winery of the Year award at his national Wine Companion gongs in Melbourne.

The boutique Denmark winery, which is managed by the Snowdens' daughter Pam and her husband Patrick Corbett, had already been attracting recognition in its home State, named as WA's most improved winery in _The West Australian _wine editor Ray Jordan's latest wine guide.

WA's vineyards have become a graveyard for plenty of ambitious wine lovers who have invested time and money with the aim of translating a passion into money, but reckoned without the challenges.

Viv, however, says that for her and her husband, the 2007 purchase of a 2.8ha vineyard in Denmark's Scotsdale Valley was never about feeding a hobby but building a profitable, sustainable family business based around top quality, cool- climate wines.

And they used the lessons learned in the management of Snowden to get them started.

"Coming from the mining industry, we were used to the ups and downs," Viv says.

"And as in any business, it is about the product and the people involved in your product.

"We realised from the beginning that we had to have the best product we could, so we threw everything we had at it and surrounded ourselves with experts."

That didn't mean they didn't muck in. Viv says she and Phil spent two months pruning just half of the vines on their new property before conceding defeat and calling in some extra hands who completed the job in three days.

As Jordan wrote in _The West Australian _last year, their philosophy has been to identify the wine styles they want, then source from a vineyard in the region best suited to the style - riesling from a Porongurup vineyard, semillon and sauvignon blanc for the oaked-style blend from Margaret River, and chardonnay from their home block.

It has never been a big venture, just 500 cases in their first year in 2009. Production has since risen to 5000 cases, nearly all of which is sold in WA to restaurants and fine wine outlets. A cellar door was opened on the estate two years ago.

Viv says the winery will get bigger though not at the risk of losing its family feel.

"We have always planned for measured expansion, but we will never be huge," she said.

There's no regret about leaving the consultancy the couple spent 20 years building, but Viv admits to missing the people.

And while there may be bigger rewards in mining, there's a thrill in producing a well-received wine.

"The worst thing is running out of wine. It's horrible, like losing an old friend. And Patrick has a habit of selling all the wine."

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