When 18th century French explorer Nicolas Baudin first set eyes on the shores and sparkling waters of what is now Port Lincoln, he decided it should be named Port du Champagne.
He must have seen something in the region’s topography that reminded him of the grape-growing regions of his homeland, yet it wasn’t until as recent as the 1980s that any grapes were planted at Port Lincoln’s Boston Bay.
Graham and Mary Ford went against the grain of the Port Lincoln region, which was focussed on broadacre farming and fishing, by planting the area’s first grape vines and, in 1984, founding Boston Bay Wines.
The couple, who have been married for 63 years, came to Port Lincoln for work opportunities unrelated to the wine industry.
A skilled maritime diver, Graham had previously salvaged shipwrecks in New Zealand and worked in underwater construction at Sydney Harbour.
He and Mary packed up their four children and moved to Port Lincoln so they could purchase an abalone licence, for which the family had saved up every penny.
Even their children pitched in, including Tony, now a chef, who at about 10-years-old worked picking up golf balls at a driving range.
“We borrowed against the home first at $100,000, and we paid 21 per cent interest; it was so high,” says Mary.
However, after moving to Port Lincoln, Graham’s health forced him to give up his passion for diving.
Inspired by conversations with their winemaking friend Rick Robertson, Graham and Mary decided to plant a vineyard while their sons would continue the abalone-diving business.
Fast-forward nearly four decades and Mary, 84, and Graham, 83, are selling their award-winning vineyards and cellar door, which has been a source of joy, community and family life for many years.
“We are very proud of the winery – it was a very successful venture for us,” says Mary.
“We’ve made lovely memories, great achievements and met some wonderful people.
“It’s definitely a boutique winery with a small crop, but it’s a lifestyle that might suit people who do know about vineyards and growing grapes.
“It has such a beautiful view across the water.”
The land totals 15 hectares, with a cellar door and a four-bedroom home with sweeping ocean and vineyard views.
Impressively, Mary still worked at the business until just a few years ago.
All four of Graham and Mary’s children have worked at the winery over the years, as have many of their grandchildren.
“We’re a big family, we’ve multiplied since we came down here to Port Lincoln,” says Mary.
Mary has led Boston Bay Wines ever since Graham underwent heart surgery in 1990.
“Because Graham wasn’t well, I was it,” she says.
“It was every day; you had to greet the public with cellar door sales, accounting and we were doing functions at night when you’d finish at one o’clock in the morning.”
The planting of the vineyard is an oft-told story. Locals initially thought the Fords were crazy as the couple began turning over their new land, destroying a crop of oats in the process.
“The crop was nearly ripe and our son-in-law was plowing it all in,” says Mary.
“The farmers were going past and thought, ‘Someone’s gone crazy; they’re plowing in a really good crop!’
“But it was good for the soil and we wanted to catch the season and get it in that spring in 1984.
“The farmers all became interested in what we were doing, and eventually saw that we weren’t crazy after all.
“They later would help us pick each vintage.”
Boston Bay Wines’ first vintage was bottled in 1987 and the annual harvest was a family and community affair.
If Mary wasn’t out picking in the vineyard, she’d be busy making morning tea and lunch for the pickers.
Members of local service clubs would also take part.
“We looked after our pickers including, the Rotary and Lions clubs who have been so loyal to us,” says Mary.
“We paid them the going rate of pickers in the Barossa.
“Some of the Rotary Club members have never missed a year because they enjoy it and earn money for their clubs.
“They’d get a lovely morning tea and lunch, while the stayers would have a glass of wine with Graham under the umbrella at the end of the day.
“They were lovely times.”
Their son Tony is a chef who started his career with Maggie Beer in the Barossa, before returning to Boston Bay to star at the winery’s restaurant soon after the cellar door was built in the ’80s.
More recently, Tony has run the winery with wife Sonia.
While Mary was the face of the cellar door, Graham was well known for his networking skills.
“Graham was very popular with all the winemakers and restaurateurs,” says Mary.
“He got us onto various wine lists by getting to know the publicans.”
For many years, the award-winning Boston Bay Wines have been produced by Clare winemaker David O’Leary, of O’Leary Walker Wines.
The soil is sandy loam over clay, covering a bed of limestone, planted with riesling, merlot, cabernet sauvignon and shiraz, with production totalling about 3000 cases each year.
Mary says whoever buys the vineyard has a chance to inherit a healthy vintage in 2022.
“We’re getting beautiful rain, which is wonderful. It does make a big difference, you’ve just got to avoid the hot weather when you’re picking,” says Mary.
The winery comes with the added bonus of whale sightings in Boston Bay from May to November, when numerous cars will pull to the side of the road for a glimpse at the passing creatures.
Mary believes the winery’s position is its biggest selling point.
“It has million-dollar views across the water and it’s only six kilometres north of Port Lincoln, which is a lovely town,” she says.
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