When Lev Mizikovsky built cabin accommodation on his organic vineyard at Peak Crossing, he invited Aretha Acton to come and manage the property. Aretha packed up her city life and moved on-site, where she now lives with family, including her three daughters. She is a warm host, who makes guests feel right at home. Together with winemaker Jason Hannay and functions manager Natalie Aldescu, the team works enthusiastically to bring the organic vineyard, winery, cellar door, function centre and charming country escape to life (www.flinderspeakwinery.com.au)
ARETHA ACTON, NATALIE ALDESCU & JASON HANNAY
Can you tell us how the winery began?
ARETHA: Flinders Peak has been here for about fourteen years. Lev Mizikovsky, the gentleman that owns it — it was his private residence. It started off like a cow paddock. Lev is Russian. I used to run his construction company. So, he built his personal residence down the back and then he decided he needed to build a vineyard. He spent some time in Italy and, I believe, he had visions of bringing back the feeling he had in Italy. In about 2003 or 2004, he established the vineyard, then the villas were built about three years ago.
Aretha, you live on-site and manage the vineyard?
ARETHA: I’ve known Lev for about twenty-five years. I heard he had a property for rent down the back. He hadn’t lived here for a while. He was in the midst of trying to work out what to do with the cabins and he said to me, ‘Will you come out and manage it?’ That was at the end of 2015. I arrived here with the kids at the start of the school year in 2016. My parents are from the country and I have always wanted to live in the country, so I am fulfilling my country dream.
Natalie, you’re the functions manager, aren’t you?
NATALIE: I started in June or July of 2016. At that time, we didn’t have the venue completed. The people that booked, booked based on the dream that we had. We told them this is what we hope it will look like: we’ll stick with a rustic theme and we’re out in a vineyard. It is the way weddings are going these days. They’re quite rustic. They want games. A lot of brides come barefoot or in cowboy boots, or rock up on tractors. It is hay bales and fairy lights.
How do people find you?
NATALIE: Social media. We’re putting in the work now, but once people come out here, they tell their friends and family. Saying that, we had a couple stay last week — it was about their third stay. They brought another couple with them, this time, and they were talking up here while they were having a wine tasting. The friends of the regulars said they will tell their family, but the regulars said, ‘Don’t tell the whole family. This is our little piece of paradise. We want to keep this place to ourselves.’
So, Jason, you make the wine?
JASON: Wine and spirits and everything to do with the vineyard.
Do you have a distillery?
JASON: Yes. Everything is made on-site, down the end of the property.
ARETHA: Jason also produces other people’s wines.
JASON: My background was in IT, to start with. Then, I had a tree change and got into winemaking at Warrego Wines out at Marburg. They were a big custom winemaking facility for a number of different vineyards, so I have been involved in making all different styles of wine and different varieties.
I always had a passion for wine and you have to follow your passion. I became involved with a master of wine, Peter Scudamore-Smith. I have known Peter for a long time, and he mentored me for about six years while I was doing my winemaking degree. Then, I got a phone call from Phil, who was the vineyard manager here. He said, ‘We need a winemaker. We don’t know how to make wine. Do you want a job?’ I have been here ever since.
JASON: Lev, the owner, wanted to be organic. He wanted to be natural.
So, do you spray anything on the vines?
JASON: I still use limited sprays, but they are all organic. We use copper and sulphur, which are natural elements, and dose the vines up with Seasol to give them nutrients and the boost they need for the season. The vines budburst in the middle of September, then we’re picking late January or early February.
ARETHA: It is a hot time of year, but we’d welcome people from the community to join us at vintage to help us pick.
What are your varietals?
JASON: It is all shiraz. We have probably nearly 20,000 shiraz vines planted in the vineyard, and it is all organic. That’s why there’s grass growing under the vines. We don’t use any herbicides or pesticides. It is all natural.
ARETHA: People love our spirits because they’re gluten-free as they’re all made on a grape-based product. If you are coeliac or if you are gluten-intolerant, you can still enjoy the spirits.
How do you make them?
JASON: We start with the shiraz grapes. I ferment the grapes and turn them into alcohol, just like wine. I then distill the wine and it becomes a spirit. Then we put it into barrels and age it for brandy, or I can distill it again to purify it even more and make a neutral spirit for our vodka and other products. We make our gin the same way: it is based on the shiraz-based spirit, and is then infused with botanicals to make gin. Juniper and coriander are the two main ingredients, as well as other ingredients I’ve sourced from the farm, such as the callistemon flowers, lavender, lemon — it is all from the property. I am trying to keep it all as close as possible.
We started with the grappa; then did vodka, which is quadruple distilled. From there we branched out and did lemon schnapps, which is another distilled product — it is pure essence of lemon. It is not like a limoncello in which they add the lemon skin into a neutral spirit; it is actually distilled lemons that are grown here. We also do a Christmas Spice schnapps, which is like a Fireball — a cinnamon-infused whiskey. We also do the Missin’ Ippy Moonshine Liqueur, which is based on a grappa but more approachable, down at nineteen per cent alcohol, then blended with our White Gold Liqueur.
Tell us about the Missin’ Ippy?
ARETHA: We had the country music festival coming up, so I said, ‘We’re going to make a moonshine!’ Jason looked at me and said, ‘Ah, we don’t make moonshine.’ He did a couple of blends, but I said, ‘No, no. It has to be sweeter. We’re selling it to girls.’ He went away, and he took two of our products and made a blend.
Do you use preservatives?
JASON: We always try to use the minimal amount of preservative that we can in all of the products. We still have to put a little in. It can affect the shelf-life with certain styles of wine, but as you have seen with the organic ’07, it is now ten years old and it is still drinking very nicely and that has nothing in it at all. The way it was made, it was made with a lot of tannin, and tannin is actually a better preservative than the sulphur dioxide.
Do you enter awards?
JASON: Sometimes it is better not to be involved with all of the hype, even though you are getting ratings and so on. Sometimes it is better just to do your own thing, create your own product, and let people decide whether they like it or not.
Is Lev happy with everything you’re doing?
ARETHA: We’re doing our best to fulfil his dream. He had a vision and we’re happy to make it work.
What do you enjoy about living in the region?
ARETHA: Many locals will stop and say hello when the front door is open. It is really very nice. We sell our lemons out the front, and Naughty Little Kids gelato, too, so people stop by for an ice cream in summer. Arthur Clive’s did pies for us, too.
I love the concept that we can all use local produce and work together to promote the area. When I lived in the western suburbs of Brisbane, this area wasn’t somewhere I considered going. I didn’t know about it. Now that we’re recognising the Scenic Rim, people are coming here. It is so close to Brisbane.