It was 1977 when Linda and (the late) Ian Tyrer left their city lives behind to start their vineyard, Galafrey Wines, in the Southern part of Western Australia. Today Mount Barker and Margaret River have become famous around the globe for the quality of their wines, but back in the ’70s, the region was but a fledgling, still learning to fly.
The WA government had been trying for years without success to lure many of the famous wine families to the region, but it wasn’t ’til the late ’60s that any vintners worth their salt decided to lay foundations in the area.
In fact, when Linda and Ian started Galafrey Wines they were only the fourth vineyard in WA. Arriving in Mount Barker a decade after the summer of love, the couple were betting it all on a dream. Four months pregnant and armed with a truckload of furniture, a few 1000 grape cuttings and a lot of enthusiasm, Linda and Ian began their search for a place to call home.
“I have to smile thinking about the TV show Real Sea Change – it seems we were 30 years ahead of our time when we left our secure well-paid jobs in the computer industry to be pioneers in the Mount Barker wine industry,” remembers Linda.
They were indeed true renegades, as daughter Kim tells it:
“Galafrey is one of the pioneering vineyards when viticulture was a new and exciting industry starting in the area. It was a different world back then. My father cut trees down on the property and hand-split all the posts in the vineyard. These days you go to a local rural store and buy a treated pine post. Not so, then. From growing grapes their business grew to building a winery and making our own premium wines.”
From the 70s to now, the winery has weathered a lot of changes.
“I think we have experienced almost everything you can in the wine industry over the last 30 years. Hail that wiped out 1989 crop, floods, snow, droughts, the dreaded vegetable weevil, snails, locust, birds. Cyclone Alby and lots of tail-ends of cyclones that dump huge amounts of rain right in the middle of vintage. Not to mention the dominance of the liquor store market and the famous wine glut” says Linda.
In 2003 the untimely death of founder Ian Tyrer was a shock to everyone involved in the business. As he mother dealt with the devastating loss, Kim returned home at the age of 25 to help with the family business. Today her mother has taken a step back and Kim serves as CEO of the business. Her husband Nigel has also joined the fold. A skilled agriculturist he brings his own talents to Galafrey. Since taking the reins, Kim has gone on to become a top-notch winemaker, named in the Top 50 of the Australian Young Gun Winemakers for 2018, 2019 and 2020.
Kim tells KBB that Galafrey Wines’ philosophy is to strive for excellence in producing small parcels of distinctive and consistently exceptional wines. She says to do this the family is committed to producing fruit of the highest quality The winery boasts a unique Dry Grown vineyard and harvests grapes for Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and Merlot Grapes. Galafrey is also well known for being one of the few growers in Australia that has championed the grape variety Muller Thurgau. It all makes for a busy work-day.
“At Galafrey we manage a vineyard, a winery, full production, a cellar door, marketing, branding, and sales,” says Kim.
“We sell direct on our website and at the cellar door, we manage our Western Australian wholesale sales to restaurants and liquor stores plus export sales. We work with people who sell our wine in Queensland and Victoria. We maintain a hands-on approach from growing the grapes to the end product.”
Like most rural family businesses, their children are involved as well. Kim says being part of a rural community and living on a beautiful vineyard where the kids can roam free is one of the major benefits of working in her family business.
“We have flexibility within the business to manage both the business and the family, ” she says.
“I love seeing the full circle. I grew up in my family business. From a young age, I was in the vineyard working and helping my mother plant the vineyard.
“My mother had a Mary Poppins style pram and on one side was the vine cuttings and on the other side was me as a baby. She would walk along the rows and plant the vines as I was in the pram. As I grew up, I did different jobs within the business literally growing with the business as my parents started from scratch. Now my children are doing the same but from a different perspective as the business is more established. I am sure it will have a big impact on their lives as it did mine.”
She says she is extremely excited Galafrey Wines is nominated for Australia’s Favourite Family Business.
“We work ridiculously hard and are immensely proud of how far we have come with our business. We love being a family business and it is a big part of our story and branding.
“The dynamics of a family business is incredibly unique, and I learnt early on that it takes generations to build a lifetime of work. A family business is very personable, we love talking to people about passion and people in return love to hear our story and have our wines at their family and friend’s dinner table.”
2020 has been a challenging year for business owners, and Kim says Galafrey has not been immune from the fallout of the pandemic. She admits it has been mentally challenging dealing with COVID-19 and the business has been impacted.
“In March which is also our busiest time of year with vintage every day, there were government announcements which changed everything you did from that day.
“Trying to juggle those restrictions and vintage and then homeschooling was difficult. Let alone the anguish of not knowing what the future looked like. Or that it looked bleak with no income and limited ability to sell alcohol and having website sales as our only form of income.”
Kim says being in the midst of vintage during lockdown was immensely stressful as they couldn’t bring in help to handpick the crop or assist with other vintage jobs. Still, she says they have been incredibly lucky.
“I am so grateful for where we live, and that my children and family have been safe. How lucky are we to be doing ok? Many people are simply burnt out. I feel very conscious not to complain as many people have it much worse. It is an emotionally confusing time.”
To ensure Galafrey Wines can continue to move forward Kim has chosen to concentrate on local, and direct marketing and income through the vineyard’s website and cellar door sales.
“We have also reduced our cellar doors hours to weekend only, leaving the mid-week available to get off the property and do business elsewhere which is incredibly important. We simply cannot be everywhere at once it is impossible. However, we will be open daily during peak holiday periods which is essential.”
Kim says she has also committed to some much-needed time off with her family.
“Without a doubt, one of the biggest mental challenges of a family business is being responsible for everything and everyone within it. The juggle of home life and business is always blurred, and you are always in work mode as we live where we work but I would not have it any other way.
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