BRIAN Freeman is a wine master who thinks outside the square and a flock of white pigeons is one demonstration of that gift.
The Freeman vineyards and winery at Prunevale in the Hilltops area near Young produce some of Australia’s most unusual and adventurous wines – but a major problem has been the starlings feasting on ripening grapes.
And that’s where the coop of white pigeons comes in.
Brian says his pigeon flock flying around the vineyard are mistaken for predatory hawks by the starlings.
And over the past three years the strategy has deterred the winged raiders and saved his grapes.
Brian was presented with the 2012 Graham Gregory Award for his significant contribution to the NSW wine industry and particularly for his major role in developing the Hilltops wine region and in growing Italian varietals.
He started working in Sydney with the NSW Agriculture Department and went on to do horticultural research in California, before spending 10 years teaching at Charles Sturt University’s Wagga campus, the Wagga wine school, rising to the post of professor of wine science.
As a prelude to his retirement, in 1999 Brian bought a prune and cherry orchard at Prunevale in the Hilltops area near Young and bulldozed the fruit trees to plant a vineyard that reflected his love of Italy and of rare grape varieties.
Fourteen years on Brian, now assisted by his 29-year-old Sturt University Wine Science graduate daughter Xanthe, has vineyards containing the only Australian plantings of the rondinella and corvine varieties, which are the backbone of Italy’s Amarone and Valpolicella wines.
The rich, exotic Freeman Secco Rondinella Corvina, made by an adaptation of Italian dried fruit wine techniques, have attracted an enthusiastic following and the 2004 version won the 2009 NSW Wine Awards trophy for the best mature dry red and repeated the triumph in 2011. Limited stocks of the wine are still available at the Freeman cellar door or on 0263844299 or freemanvineyards.com.au.
The Freemans also have plantings of the Italian nebbiolo and aleatico and the Hungarian furmint and harslevelu varieties, as well as the more conventional cabernet sauvignon, shiraz, tempranillo, merlot, pinot noir, semillon, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, viognier and riesling vines.
Brian sees nebbiolo as his next milestone. He made his first full-bodied dry red from this classic Italian variety in 2010 and expects to release the wine next autumn. He also has 2011 and 2012 vintages maturing and hopes they will also prove a “roses and tar treat”.
Brian’s 2012 Graham Gregory Award had special significance for him because Graham Gregory was one of his early mentors.
The award pays tribute to the former director of the NSW Department of Agriculture and is the NSW wine industry’s highest accolade.