Where chooks rule

Rosemary Sorensen | Bendigo Weekly | 06-Oct-2011 2.55pm

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BARREL BOY: Adam Marks.
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TURN off the Old Calder Highway at Harcourt, up the drive winding between the vineyards, to the heart of Bress, and you pretty much feel like you are visiting Arcadia.

Cradled in the granite embrace of Mt Alexander, this cidery and winery is picturesque to the point of corniness: querulous geese hiss at your approach, a gaggle of guinea fowl clatter away comically, Ollie the dog lumbers out with a smile on his face to welcome you. 

Inside the huge sheds, there’s the rumble of work, and at this time of year, the vines are budding and the apple trees too, frosting the fields around with delicate pink.

There’s hardly a leaf out of place. 

In the tasting room at the cellar door, where the ciders and wines with the distinctive Bress cock label are lined up, everything is shipshape too, invitingly glistening in the clear light of this glorious part of the Goldfields.

The man behind all this loveliness is, then, something of a surprise.

“Get that barrel off the ute, lovely lips,” Adam Marks shouts to young Connor, who is helping out during school holidays. 

“Get out of the way, you freaks,” he shouts at the bad-tempered geese.

“Let’s go emu bobbing, sweetheart,” he shouts to his new employee, a young woman from Colombia who is learning the ropes.

Emu bobbing is looking for guinea fowl eggs in the long grass, which has to be done each evening so the eggs can be put into an incubator.

No guinea fowl has obliged this day, but the chook eggs are labelled and placed in the warmth, with an instruction to Sielo that she must turn them each morning.

Connor, a good-tempered kid from Marong, where his parents have a vineyard, gets in a few return serves as the boss strides off around the property, showing Sielo what has to be done in the nursery, in the chookpen, over at the cellar door. But mostly he’s the brunt of a constant stream of bullying humour, sometimes veering dangerously close to risque but mostly fond. 

Sielo watches it all carefully. She hopes to work at Bress across the summer, and by the end of a couple of hours in the company of Adam, she quietly says, yes, she thinks this will be a good place to be.

Adam Marks and his wife Lynne Jensen, a corporate lawyer, bought what used to be the Mt Alexander winery seven years ago.

It was very run down at the time, well-known in the region as a place where you could never be sure what kind of welcome you’d get.

In his characteristically colourful language, Adam describes it as a place where the potential was clear, but needed a great deal of hard work to develop.

A winemaker for many years, Adam had been making wine under the Bress label for three years when they bought the property and set about renovating the stone house, reducing the variety of
vines, making the whole enterprise sustainable and biodynamic.

Finally, he says, they have things just about where they want them.

In love with and inspired by all things French (Bress is a region of southern France famous for its chickens), Adam’s goals are to farm in an environmental and sustainably sound manner, to match his grapes to the Harcourt region, and to make Bress wonderfully welcoming, a place you can wander around in at your leisure.

He is (characteristically again) scathing about the Bendigo Winemakers Association, which he says is too small and family-oriented to make a serious mark. 

The region could, however, be a serious player, because it does have the climate and the landscape to produce top-class wines. The way to go, according to Adam, would be to focus on organic wines, making that the point of difference.

“What holds the region back is when people take their superannuation money, people who don’t know what they are doing, put in good vineyards, but then, three years later when it gets tough, they start to cut corners.

“The lack of technical expertise means the wines are faulty and that blights the reputation of the region.

“You’ve got to do it right.”

Although he is a little troubled by his chardonnay, and is planning a way (involving a visiting French winemaker) to put it right, Adam thinks that, finally, Bress is doing it right.

Finally, too, he may be living down the ignominy of the mad day four years ago when he drank too much, went out of control and ended up becoming known as the man who wiped his bottom with party pies and headed off to serve them up at a shire event.

Adam outs himself about this unprompted, joking about it a little nervously as he recalls behaviour that ended him up in court. (The magistrate labelled his behaviour “remarkable and dishonourable” but said he deserved a chance to atone, and put him on a good behaviour bond.)

But he backs off not at all on his open-mouthed, full-hearted approach to life, and to the business he has built in the lee of the brooding mountain.

“You make your own luck,” he says. “What prompts me to do things is to just get better – apathy is a horrible affliction.”

He’s not about to suffer from that.

Bress’s cellar door and kitchen serves lunch from noon to 4pm on the weekends, or by arrangement: phone 5474 2262.


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