On tour with the Clare Valley’s Mr Willson

Dave Willson is the quintessential Aussie bloke. He loves a chat, sharing a joke, and his smile is as wide as the brim on his hat.

Most people around the Clare Valley know him as Mr Willson – it started as a joke and more a tribute to his sense of humour than any desire from him for formalities.

A true character, the affable bloke has built up a tour company, Clare Valley Tours, selling the virtues of the Clare Valley and South Australia to domestic and international visitors.

It is an easy sell according to Mr Willson, who was born and bred in the Clare Valley, the son of veterinarians, he spent his early years exploring the area on ponies.

Travelling to every corner of the Clare Valley is a normal day in the office for Mr Willson.

“I’ve always had a wonderful affinity with the Clare Valley, it’s my home, and when I became involved in tourism I realised how much passion I have for our region,” he says.

“Being a local and transitioning into a tour operator makes you look at your home in a different light – you actually stop and smell the roses instead of driving past and you realise we really are sitting in one of the nicest, safest places to live in the world and it’s a real privilege.”

A former wool classer, excavation contractor (he was the local gravedigger), private wool buyer and machinery salesperson, a recreational pilot and former chairman of the Clare Aerodrome, Mr Willson knows a thing or two about the area.

So it’s no surprise that when he took on the tour business in 2012, his local knowledge and loveable nature helped him easily build a rapport with his guests.

With two small buses and a chauffeured car, Clare Valley Tours is gaining a reputation for quality, tailored tours of the Clare Valley, Mid North and through to the Flinders Ranges.

A quick read through Trip Advisor uncovers comments including “delightful, funny and very knowledgeable … a local treasure”.

Clare Valley Tours recently achieved Quality Tourism Accredited Business status, has current Trip Advisor Certificates of Excellence, and is part of the South Australian Tourism Commission emerging products program, a mentoring initiative which assists operators into new markets.

With departures from either Adelaide, Clare Valley or other areas, Mr Willson’s Clare Valley Tours offers guests either package or individualised tours.

He says SA has so much to offer and promises his tours are “no ordinary show”.

An avid reader, Mr Willson continually expands his local knowledge to ensure he can offer his passengers an insider’s view of a region, sometimes going off the beaten track to ensure they see the very best parts of SA.

In fact, don’t be surprised if you find yourself travelling down the bumpy Civilisation Lost Road, onto Dusty Creek Road and end up on World’s End Highway – real places, all with a story to tell.

“We actually live in Utopia here in SA,” he says.

Skilly Road, Clare Valley.

“So many people think the Clare Valley is about the wines, it’s not just wine though, it’s the whole Clare Valley experience – the wineries, the restaurants, the shop owners, agriculture, the vast history and stories from the past and present, the people, and good old-fashioned country hospitality.”

“Nearby there’s Burra which has such an important part in SA’s history and loaded with historical buildings, and Goyder’s Line – the 10-inch rainfall zone where the vineyards virtually meet the outback.

“Just north we’ve got the majestic Flinders Ranges and the Clare Valley is the gateway to them. I hear it so often, people wished they had more time, they didn’t know the Clare Valley and the area around here is so beautiful, that there is so much history, there’s so much to see, do and explore.

“I love being able to share it and if I can send my guests home happy, I’m very happy – I’ve created a lifestyle, not a job.”

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UK exchange employee to learn from South Australian agriculture

One of South Australia’s leading regional grain marketers and agribusiness consultancies is helping local farmers to better manage seasonal challenges by introducing an international insight into the business.

Rural Directions based in Clare in the state’s Mid North has begun an international exchange program, welcoming 26-year-old consultant George Lane all the way from Leicestershire, England.

George, who works for the UK-based Brown & Co, has arrived in SA for four weeks to work with Rural Directions across the state’s prime cropping and grazing regions.

Rural Directions has been around since 1997 in aim of helping local farmers adapt to technology, implement advanced management systems, and give advice and analysis on particular situations or opportunities.

Their work includes liaising with farm businesses to increase income and reduce costs, save time, make sound investment decisions, give independent agronomic advice, and to help advance industry development.

Brown & Co UK employee George Lane, left, with Rural Directions managing director David Heinjus.

Rural Directions operations manager Brenton Greenslade says the employee exchange, a first between the Clare business and Brown & Co, will be reciprocated in 2019 when a Rural Directions employee travels to the UK.

“It’s an opportunity for our employees to gain an outside view on how things are done and then be able to bring it back and apply it for the benefit of our clients here in Australia,” he says.

Delivering a different perspective and learning how local farmers are dealing with current drought conditions are just a couple of outcomes expected by George.

“I’m really hoping to see another perspective to how people approach and deal with agricultural businesses, along with how they deal with the challenges which they face such as drought,” he says.

“I have experience in a lot of similar areas that Rural Directions specialises in, hopefully I can bring something new to the table or even spark new thoughts and ideas.”

Rural Directions employees Carlyn Sherrif and Natasha Searle.

Rural Directions also has offices in Freeling in the Lower Light, Loxton in the Riverland and Naracoorte in the South East, as well as an office in Dubbo, New South Wales.

Agribusiness consultant Patrick Redden says Rural Directions delivers advice for about 10% of the state’s crop.

“Rural Directions exists to add value to our clients, who are individual family farming businesses, those within the corporate ag sector, and industry groups like Grains Research and Development Corporation, Meat and Livestock Australia, Australian Wool Innovation and Dairy Australia,” he says.

“It’s about helping families to grow and develop their business to increase profitability and sustainability, while identifying opportunities for the future.”

Much of Rural Directions’ current work involves helping growers through current climate challenges, such as drought and frosts.

Rural Directions’ Simon Voigt. The business also consults with livestock farmers as well as crop and pastoral farmers.

Some parts of Australia are in the grip of a drought or are affected by it, creating less than average production and bringing drought-related stress to farmers and their families.

Patrick says Rural Directions helps keep mindsets positive and helps clients to focus on factors within their control.

“We can be a sounding board with independent views on these stressful decisions such as do they leave a crop for grain or cut it for hay?

“When we work with a business and support the client, we are helping to remove the emotion from it and having a clear-headed approach.”

With 23 employees based across Rural Directions’ five offices, Patrick says there is potential for further growth in the business, with two new graduate employees starting soon.

Header photo features Rural Directions employees Brendan Wallis, Brenton Greenslade and Tony Craddock.

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Industry in focus: Agribusiness

Throughout the month of October, the state’s agribusiness industry will be under the magnifying glass as part of I Choose SA.

South Australian farmers, producers, agricultural researchers and biosecurity workers are the lifeblood of our country communities and are big players in the state’s overall economic welfare. Read more stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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Newly polished Grevillea House has country carers at heart

A cuppa and a chat, a lunch with friends or a day trip exploring South Australia’s Clare Valley.

These are just some of the simple pleasures not-for-profit organisation SA Country Carers in the state’s Lower Mid North is helping unpaid carers take the time to enjoy.

Supporting unpaid carers of family and friends with disabilities or of frail age is at the heart of the Clare-based community organisation that mainly services the Mid North, but is also visited by clients across the state.

It is estimated that 245,000 people in SA provide unpaid care to family and friends who have a disability, mental illness, chronic condition, terminal illness, drug or alcohol abuse, or are frail.

Carers often provide physical and personal care and assistance including dressing, lifting out of bed and up from chairs, showering, feeding, providing transport to attend appointments, and managing medications.

On World Elder Abuse Awareness Day in June, SA Country Carers held free hand massages for carers. The services were provided local business Unique Beauty.

Almost half of carers provide up to 20 hours of care every week, while more than 30% provide over 40 hours a week – more than the equivalent of a full-time job.

SA Country Carers provides information, counselling and advocacy to carers who are often faced with physical and emotional fatigue from their caring role.

In 1996 the organisation was established by a group of locals who saw a need for greater carer support.

Now the community organisation supports more than 500 unpaid carers and has offices at Clare and Balaklava, as well as a short-term respite facility, Grevillea House, in Clare.

CEO Eve Rogers says support systems are crucial for regional areas.

“It’s important for carers to have a break and for them to know that there are others out there, that they’re not alone in the world,” she says.

“It’s important to have trusted services in regional communities.”

SA Country Carers volunteers are thanked at an annual luncheon in appreciation of their services.

The short-term residential respite facility, Grevillea House, allows unpaid carers to take a break, while knowing their loved ones are safe and being looked after.

Carer recipients stay at Grevillea House for a short period of time, while the carer takes time out for themselves, or attends day trips, retreats and activities put on by the organisation.

Sometimes the activities are attended by both the carer and care recipient to allow for bonding time.

This month Grevillea House will officially celebrate an overhaul of the facility, which Eve says needed a little TLC.

“In 2016 we renovated the kitchen using donations from loyal supporters and the local community, including the Rotary Club which was very generous with their funding,” she says.

“But once we did the kitchen we looked around and realised that everything else looked really old.”

The finished hallway at Grevillea House.

A refurbishment of the house began in August this year with a paint job, new floor coverings and window furnishings.

Grevillea House’s landlord, Helping Hand, also chipped in to the facility’s rejuvenation by replacing all light treatments and heaters at its own cost.

Eve says many care recipients, who can be as young as five or of frail age, end up calling Grevillea House their second home, with activities, facilities and support on hand to meet their needs.

SA Country Carers relies on the community for support, conducting a number of fundraising activities throughout the year.

Its group of volunteers are key to these fundraising efforts and boosting the organisation’s profile in the community.

SA Country Carers is one of five carer support organisations in the state.

Access to SA Country Carers services can be provided through the Commonwealth Home Support Program, NDIS, and My Aged Care.

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Watervale Hotel’s elite food aspirations

A country hotel can embrace city restaurant ethics without destroying the simple ambience and personality of rural hospitality.

This is the belief of Nicola Palmer and Warrick Duthy, who bought the Watervale Hotel in Clare a year ago, and are implementing positive change through re-defining the pub’s cooking and dining philosophy.

Calling themselves “ethical epicureans”, Warwick and Nicola (her family owns Skillogalee Winery at Clare) aim to prepare elite-quality meals while simultaneously practicing eco-sustainability, recycling and provide unique training for hospitality staff.

To achieve this, the couple has also bought two nearby properties where they intend to grow much of their own food.

The newly revamped Watervale Hotel is a country pub that will give any city restaurant a run for its money. Photo by Daniel Blackman.

A plot opposite the pub is providing herbs and brassica for the hotel kitchen, but the majority of produce will come from Penobscot Farm, a 1.2ha permaculture site being tended by gardener Jared Murray, with about 70 mature fruit and nut trees, and space for more vegetable plots, and animals.

It’s part of a big makeover, as Nicola and Warrick intend to spend $1 million over two years to revitalise the hotel.

An exterior and interior facelift is already in motion, together with refreshed signage and a new website to promote the philosophical change.

Next they will re-open No. 6 Quelltaler Road, the town’s former butcher shop, as Farmgate Cellars – a diverse regional wine shop and providore, selling produce from Penobscot Farm.

Watervale Hotel owner Warrick Duthy. Photo by Daniel Blackman.

The owners want Watervale to win renown as a gastronomic food destination, citing the Royal Mail Hotel (in Dunkeld, western Victoria) and Blue Hill at Stone Barns (American chef Dan Barber’s farm restaurant in New York State) as inspirational models of success.

They’ve started to implement their food ideas through a tasting plate menu at the Watervale Hotel, “inspired by the amazing street food of the world, influenced by the local flavours of The Clare Valley”.

“At the moment, it’s baby steps,” explains Warrick. “It’s a big plan that will keep growing as we get all the resources together and continue to build a team that shares the same ethical approach.”

The challenge now is enticing aspiring young chefs to the region so the philosophy can be implemented to its fullest.

“This is a special opportunity that any chef who wants to learn and perform at the highest level just won’t find in the city. They’ll have a chance to create their own food, from the soil up,” explains Warrick.

“Young hospitality workers are telling me they don’t want to come to a place like Clare because of lifestyle reasons, that it’s too far removed from city attractions, but it’s only here that they can become part of a thriving food community. It’s not an impossible dream.

“Places such as Brae in rural Victoria have been awarded Australia’s best restaurant. We want to make it happen in Clare, too.”

Photo by Daniel Blackman.

More notable change is happening in the Limestone Coast, with the Royal Oak Hotel in Penola having recently been sold after a long time under the control of the Hayward family.

The pub has been bought by John Rymill (former managing director of Rymill Winery in Coonawarra), with local chef Kirby Shearing taking residence in the kitchen to drive the hotel’s dining output and serve as a base for his Soul Projects catering company.

Again, the first step this country pub is taking towards revitalisation is via its menu. While not wishing to radically transform the food style, Kirby is adopting a clean food philosophy.

“We’ll be keeping food miles down on the produce we use; sourcing locally, making everything on-site, placing regional freshness as a priority,” he says.

“We won’t try to change what people like to eat, but we will be placing an emphasis on high service standards and quality. I think these are great aspects that new ownership can bring to a country pub.”

We see the Stanley Bridge Tavern’s new beer garden becoming a hotspot this summer.

Introducing change to a beloved country pub is a delicate manoeuvre, as Frank Hannon-Tan (who also runs Amalfi Pizzeria Ristorante in Frome Street, Adelaide) and Pablo Theodoros (ex-East End Cellars) have learned as managers of the Stanley Bridge Tavern at Verdun in the Adelaide Hills.

While the pub is owned by Julie and Ed Peters (who also own the Crafers and Uraidla Hotels in the Adelaide Hills, featured previously here on Brand SA News, Hannon-Tan and Theodoros have been charged with refreshing the pub’s image through modern wines list, simplified bistro-style menu, and modern styling applied to a large rear beer garden, but without damaging the character of a beloved local watering hole.

“It has to be a locals’ pub, first and foremost,” says Theodoros, “so we have to make sure we give loyal locals the best of everything.”

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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WSB’s 80-year partnership with SA agriculture

Anyone who knows farming, viticulture and even motorbikes in South Australia has most likely heard of WSB Distributors.

And it is easy to know why, after 80 years in business in the Clare Valley – and now also in Saddleworth and Jamestown – it is a name that is synonymous with agricultural machinery sales and service.

These days Phil and Rob Stanway head up the business, but it was their grandfather, a then young accountant AJ ‘Johnny’ Walker who started the legacy in 1938 originally as a tax and land agency known as AJ Walker.

AJ Walker was to see many guises over the years – taxation and property, fuel and cars, and a garage for servicing cars set up in 1952 in the very same building the business’s head office operates from today in Clare’s main street.

While the head office’s insides may have been modernised since WSB’s beginning, its attention to customer service remains as strong.

WSB’s long partnership with Massey Ferguson tractors continues today.

Phil and Rob’s late father Brian arrived on the scene after moving to Clare from Millicent in 1959.

He met their mother Raelene – who was working in her father’s business – soon after arriving in town and it was the beginning of a wonderful partnership in both marriage and a business that would eventually become known as WSB Distributors.

WSB’s commitment to service has been ever-strong throughout its history, however the business has honed its focus on agricultural and viticultural machinery sales and service in more recent years and gone from strength to strength.

Brothers Robert, a co-director and WSB’s accountant and economist, and Phil, co-director and sales manager, now head up the leading machinery dealership, although Raelene remains an ever-present guide.

With three branches now operating across the Mid North the business has seen, and survived, massive industry changes, including a rationalisation of farm machinery dealerships and machinery manufacturers.

Phil, Raelene and Rob Stanway cut a birthday cake to mark the milestone 80th year of WSB Distributors.

WSB Distributors now employs 43 full-time staff, three junior and three adult apprentices, and has a fleet of 16 on-farm service vehicles servicing as far as the Eyre Peninsula due to demand for their expertise.

“I’m really proud of the company’s longevity and our staff,” Phil says.

“We have several staff who have notched up 30, 40 and 50 years of service but the effort of all the staff regardless of how long they have worked for the company is what keeps the business going and we couldn’t do it without them.

“I think also part of our success has been our ability to stay ahead of the game and quickly recognise what will work and what won’t.

Massey Ferguson has been a strong foundation for the success for more than 50 years and introducing other brands such as Manitou and Kubota has supported the business well.”

Header image: Rob and Phil Stanway in front of WSB Distributors in Clare, originally started by their grandfather, a then young accountant AJ ‘Johnny’ Walker in 1938. Photo by Gabrielle Hall.

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The grain idea that paid off into a fine food venture

Sometimes all it takes is a bit of thinking outside the square.

That’s exactly what fifth generation Clare Valley farmer Jim Maitland did in 2011 when he value-added his family’s durum wheat by launching a line of wholegrain pasta.

The Pangkarra Foods brand included a stone milled wholegrain flour and lavosh, giving the Clare Valley family a chance at a secondary income and launching them into the world of fine foods.

But the length of the boutique enterprise didn’t stop there.

In 2016, Pangkarra released a paddock to plate range of ready-to-eat snacks that are now sold Australia-wide.

The roasted pulses range has been a hit.

The line includes an Australian first in cooked and ready-to-eat chickpeas, as well as a trio of snack packs featuring roasted chickpeas, faba beans and broad beans.

Managing Pangkarra Foods is Katherine Maitland, Jim’s wife, who also has a background in media, marketing and public relations.

She says the range of snack pulses now make up to 50-60% of Pangkarra’s total sales, while a small portion of the range is exported to Asia.

“Paddock to plate-style, healthy snack ranges are really growing in popularity, especially with the nut free and gluten free (movements),” Katherine says.

“With the snack range there is less competition and a growing market – it’s been very successful.”

Fifth generation farmer Jim and wife Katherine Maitland on the Clare Valley property.

While Jim and Katherine are at the helm of Pangkarra Foods, Jim’s parents David and Margot head the family’s farm, Anama Park.

The farm, which also exports hay, has been in the Maitland family since 1866 and is the unit’s “core business”.

“We’re only starting to break even and make a small profit (from Pangkarra Foods), but the idea is that we’re building something for future generations,” Katherine says.

“It’s about not being a one trick pony, having another means to the end and controlling the supply chain a bit more.”

Pangkarra products are now sold in 150 stores Australia wide and online.

The name Pangkarra is an Aboriginal word which holds great significance to the Kaurna people and means a small piece of land that has been sustained for generations.

The Maitland’s Clare Valley farm has been in the family since the 1800s.

The family practices sustainable farming methods such as the use of organic fertilisers and crop rotation (changing the type of crop grown in a particular area).

Jim’s decision to branch out from a reliance on traditional farming has also benefited two other South Australian businesses.

Once harvested, the grain for the Pangkarra products are milled at longstanding establishment Laucke Flour Mills in Strathalbyn.

Laucke uses traditional stone milling methods to grind the grain into flour.

The grain is crushed, not cut, meaning that more than 80% of the nutrients are kept, resulting in a stronger, nutty flavour and a more wholesome product.

The Pangkarra 100% wholegrain pasta range was the Maitland family’s first taste of the world of fine foods.

The flour is then made into pasta by L’Abruzzese in Glynde in Adelaide’s north east using traditional Italian methods.

While the Clare Valley is mostly recognised as the home of Australian riesling, Katherine says it’s also emerging as a valued food bowl.

“We’re very lucky to live here in Clare, which is very well known for food, wine and tourism and it’s emerging as food destination,” she says.

“We’re working with our cool climate … which is good for growing crops and wine grapes.”

Katherine stresses the importance of choosing SA and says local shoppers have backed Pangkarra since day one.

“The products might be more expensive, but the process is of higher quality,” she says.

“Our best sales are here in SA.”

Visit the I Choose SA for Industry website to read more stories about key industry leaders, why they’ve chosen SA as a base and how the state is enabling them to succeed.

The Clare Valley cellar door with a bush tucker twist

Lemon myrtle, native pepperleaf, desert lime and bush tomato syrup are not usually ingredients found at a cellar door.

But for Clare Valley’s Paulett Wines, the addition of a native bush café and garden has been a recipe for success and has increased business significantly.

Before 2015 Paulett Wines, located in the Clare Valley sub region of Polish Hill River, was renowned for producing a riesling that was crowned as the world’s best in 2010.

But yearning to create an even greater point of difference, the family owned and operated business planted a sensory bush garden and opened the Bush DeVine Café.

Grazing on a ‘bushies’ platter with a drop of white or red is perhaps the perfect way to enjoy the view at Paulett Wines and Bush DeVine Café.

At the helm of Paulett Wines is chief winemaker Neil and his wife Alison (general manager), their son Matthew who manages the vineyard and his wife Ali who looks after sales and marketing.

“There was no shortage of cellar doors in the Clare Valley, but there was a shortage of places to eat,” Ali says.

“We needed that point of difference.”

Paulett Wines established the Bush DeVine Café with the help of a $116,000 grant from the State Government’s Regional Development Fund in late 2014.

Ali says the grant has proved invaluable in getting the project off the ground and bringing the family’s value-adding idea to fruition.

Head chef Roger Graham.

“We had the idea in the pipeline for a long time – if we had a dollar for every time someone said ‘you should put a restaurant in’ we could almost have paid for it ourselves,” she says.

“It (the café) has been boosting traffic to the cellar door amazingly – and that means more and more jobs.

“We’ve taken on over 30 employees now; we only had six before.”

Bush DeVine’s head chef Roger Graham creates dishes with a native Australian twist, including the Jamaican jerk chicken with pepperberry sweet potato, desert lime and chilli sauce.

Another favourite is the bushies platter, featuring Roger’s chutney, meats, olive tapenade, marinated mushrooms, labneh, fetta, chirzo from local meat shop Mathies, and crusty bread.

The menu features matching wines, while diners who prefer to sip on a brew can enjoy the Last Minute Extra Special Bitter – a collaboration between Paulett and Clare Valley Brewing Co.

Ali says the café is supplied with native ingredients from local producers as well as Paulett Wines’ own bush garden, which was planted in 2010.

The bush garden is a sensory area allowing visitors to touch, smell and taste native produce.

The garden features hundreds of native plants and bush tucker foods, including bush spinach, muntrie berries, native raspberries, bush mint and thyme, lemon myrtle and riberries.

The Paulett’s also grow quinces, pomegranates, figs, walnuts and mulberries.

Visitors are free to wander through the ‘sensory’ garden and pick a berry or two for a taste and a smell.

Ali says opening the café has allowed them to support youth employment and training.

Bush DeVine has recently taken on two young apprentices in the kitchen, and Ali says the family business is set for further growth.

“What we would love to do next is enhance the cellar door experience by creating a separate tasting space alongside the café, allowing us to maintain the premium experience for those wine lovers who are focused solely on the wine,” she says.

The first Paulett Wines vintage was produced by Neil and Alison in 1983.

Paulett Wines will appear at the Cellar Door Festival in Adelaide from March 2–4.

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