From stock to grapes

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

Jim Creighton admits he's always liked a drop or two of good wine, so when it came time to develop his and wife Christine's hobby block on the edge of the small town of Condingup, grapes were the obvious choice.

After a lifetime working sheep and cattle, Jim and Christine started developing their dream property in Condingup nearly three decades ago.

Weekends and after work were spent planting and tending vines and olive trees and building the infrastructure of what is Condingup's only winery.

For the past 18 months the former stockman has been working full time on the family's small winery, which has five hectares of vines as well as 1000 olive trees.

Jim said he was enjoying the sea change.

"It's a lot more pleasant growing grapes than sheep or beef, that's for sure," he joked.

"It was good while I was doing it but it's like a lot of things - you see enough sheep and cows to last you a fair while. This is a new challenge."

The vineyard, one of only two commercial wine operations in the Esperance region, has a couple of tricks up its sleeves when it comes to varieties.

The Creightons are one of only two commercial operations in Australia to grow the grape variety Touriga Nacional, purported to be one of Portugal's best grapes.

"Apart from varieties I already liked, I looked at grape varieties that had performed well in other areas of the world that have similar conditions to here," Jim said.

The family has Shiraz, Grenache, Zinfandel and the Touriga in the reds and Chenin Blanc and Verdelho in the whites.

"I'm putting in some more varieties but I've only just got cuttings to trial," Jim said.

"They are the varieties Tinto Cão and Tinta Amarela (also Portuguese), so I'll put a couple of hundred vines in and see how they go."

Some of the vines are still young and so aren't in full production but Jim said waiting to see how they would turned out was exciting.

"I spent a couple of years looking at everything - varieties, soils and rain - before I did anything, just to make sure it did work," he said. "That doesn't mean it's going to but by rights it should work.

"Basically, what we want to achieve is to get it all going and have varieties that do perform well here.

"When we started everything here we knew it was long term and we weren't under any illusions about making money straight away."

The couple's youngest daughter, Aneta, was just 10 when the first vines went in and after a childhood spent helping her parents with pruning and picking has decided to turn her passion for wine into a career.

This year she starts a viticulture and winemaking degree at Curtin University and hopes to one day return to make wine at the family's vineyard.

"Having worked here since I was a kid, it gives you an idea of how everything works but I thought it would be nice to have that actual academic that goes with it," Aneta said.

"I think Condingup as an area has the potential to become a destination holiday rather than people just coming for the beach.

"With the Condingup tavern, the national parks and if we start producing some really good wine, then if you've got all those things I think we would get a greater variety and number of people to the area."

I spent a couple of years looking at everything - varieties, soils and rain - before I did anything, just to make sure it did work. Jim Creighton

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