Todd Alexander was a high-flying corporate executive with eBay in Sydney.
"I got there just as eBay was taking off. In that heyday, it was a true start-up mentality. There was lots of fun. It was hard work, but there were a lot of perks," Todd said.
"It was a great job. I got to travel the world in business class. No complaints about any of that. And, you know, American companies tend to be a little bit more generous than most Australian companies.
"Over the 12 years I was at eBay, I worked my way up, got promoted to director and was being groomed to take over from my boss at some point as manager of Australia and New Zealand."
Then he hit the wall.
"The money was great, I loved being respected and leading teams," he said.
But a thought was nagging him: "Is this really what I want to do with my life?"
"The more you work yourself up in a corporate situation, the more stressful the job can be," he said.
And so, he decided to leave his job and buy 100 acres at Belford in the Hunter Valley, just north of Pokolbin.
His new memoir, Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Called Helga, documents the journey he embarked upon with his partner Jeff.
They set about building accommodation on the property, which they named Block Eight Hunter Valley.
"The property itself is stunning," Todd said.
"It has about 100 or so kangaroos and wallabies, lots of bush and a creek."
It takes about "six to eight days" to mow the place.
"If you walked it, it would take the best part of an hour to trudge around the perimeter," he said.
It has a vineyard and olives, but they weren't part of the original plan.
"The day we moved in, we were sitting on the back deck of the house, looking out at the grape vines and sipping this Brokenwood wine made from our grapes. It just blew our minds."
They thought, "It’d be a shame to bulldoze all those grapes".
The grapes and olives stayed. So did the name of the bottle of wine.
"The wine was called Belford Block Eight. That’s why the name Block Eight stuck."
Todd originally wanted to be a farmer.
"I was inspired by Maggie Beer and I appreciated the nose to tail philosophy of certain meat producers," he said.
"So I thought I’d get animals and make small goods. And the second I brought these baby pigs back to the property, I fell in love and gave them names, played with them, took them for walks and swam with them in the dam.
"There’s no way I had the heart to be a farmer."
Their animals include three goats, a pig, chickens and ducks.
They initially acquired two male pigs, but it didn't work out so well.
"Male pigs have a tendency to be a little bit aggressive. They were aggressive towards each other. Then the dominant one, Rodney, challenged me for authority. It was a 40-minute challenge. He was about 120 kilos at the time and he was bashing into my leg every five seconds. I had to keep pushing him away because if you turn your back on a pig or back down, then he’s the boss," Todd said.
"I just thought, 'if he thinks he’s the boss of the property, then we’re all in big trouble'. So I had a massive stand-off with him."
The pigs became a risk. They had to go.
"Fortunately for us, a local pig farmer needed some boars, so off they went. They’re now impregnating sows all over the Hunter Valley, having the best life. I’m OK with that, I know they’ve got a good life. I’ve seen photos of their babies. Rodney was featured in the Rivers clothing catalogue."
Todd missed the boars, so he acquired a pig named Helga.
He posted lots of photos of Helga on Instagram. People would make comments like: "What’s Helga doing today? How’s Helga?".
They asked him to write some stories about Helga. A book began to form.
"The narrative is first person, 100 per cent factual and it is a comedy," he said.
The main theme is "follow your dreams".
"I don’t like saying our life is perfect, it certainly isn’t. And there are challenges, certainly financial challenges you don’t have in the corporate world," he said.
"But a lot of my friends are finding city life pretty monotonous. They're stuck in their mortgage and sending kids to private school. There are lots of reasons why the city is good. But I don’t know of many who go, 'I love this life'.
"For me, just doing something that was following my dreams has been so rewarding."
Nevertheless, life on the property has been a "constant struggle".
"We were unprepared. We ran out of money in the first six months. We looked like we were going out of business so many times."
In writing the book, he wanted people to "laugh at our stupidity because we laugh at ourselves all the time".
"We don’t take life too seriously," he said.
He said the book was also a "real celebration of the Hunter Valley community".
"We couldn’t have got where we are today without that. Also our city friends came up and helped with a lot of free labour and buying our wine," he said.
"The local community supported and embraced us. We feel like locals now. Yeah it’s scary to move to the country and turn your back on everything you know, but you will find a way with help from locals."