National recognition for local innovators

National recognition for local innovators

Two of the Huon Valley’s best-known personalities have been recognised in this year’s Australia Day honours, with Terry and Rosemary Bennett both receiving the prestigious Order of Australia Medal on January 26.

Recognised for their contribution to the Tasmanian wine industry and for their service to the community, Mr and Mrs Bennett have both worked hard to improve and promote the Huon Valley over many years.

Born and bred in the Huon Valley in a time when the landscape was dominated by apple orchards, the couple have come from humble beginnings.

By the time he was 18, Terry had lost both his parents and was running an apple orchard in Ranelagh. Rosemary also worked in the apples from

childhood, but with the United Kingdom joining the European common market in 1973 and Australia losing its preferential access to the UK market, apple production in Tasmania was virtually halved in a decade, with the federal and state governments funding an Orchard Adjustment Scheme that saw about half of Tasmanian apple orchardists reduce or remove their trees entirely.

The Bennetts remained in the industry, but looked for opportunities to diversify, establishing Bennett’s Petroleum in 1977, a company that now employs more than 250 people state-wide.

The Huon Valley had always been considered marginal at best for wine making, but in the early 1970s, Max and Lorraine Reynolds planted riesling at their Chateau Lorraine vineyard in Cygnet and Steve Ferencz bought land in Cradoc and established Panorama.

Eric Phillips, who had worked for the Reynolds in the late 70s, then established Elsewhere, and he provided Terry and Rosemary with their first cuttings to kick off the Home Hill Winery in Ranelagh.

It was always going to be a greater risk to plant grapes on the western side of the Huon River, where frost is an ever-present danger to growers, but Terry and Rosemary were ready to take it on and established Home Hill in 1992.

“As far as frost goes, this side of the river is a huge risk,” said Terry.

“Back in those days I’d never been up at three o’clock in the morning to see whether we got a frost or not that’s for sure.”

Innovating and adapting as always, the Bennetts installed a wind machine, the first of its kind in the Huon Valley, which uses the inversion layer of warmer air, pushing it downward to, hopefully, prevent frost.

“That was noisy as all hell,” laughed Terry.

“I’d take the phone off the hook so Rosemary wouldn’t get woken up, because people in Ranelagh would ring up, they didn’t know what it was.

“I used to go and buy bunches of flowers and deliver them around Ranelagh the next day after I started it up.”

Now the machines are a familiar sight at cherry orchards all over the Valley, although they aren’t a fail safe.

Terry and Rosemary lost an entire crop to frost in 2007.

“When we had the big frost in 2007, we had fire pots out in the vineyard, plus we had the fan, but it still didn’t save us,” said Rosemary.

The 2019 crop was also lost, due to smoke taint from the summer bushfires of that year.

Home Hill has racked up the accolades, winning the Royal Agricultural Society’s Vineyard of the Year in Tasmania and the Jimmy Watson Award at the Royal Melbourne Show in 2015, Best Red Wine in Show at the Australian and New Zealand Boutique Wine Show for three years running in 2017, 2018 and 2019 and the Tasmanian Wine Show Trophy in 2020.

Home Hill has had three wine makers come through the winery over the years, but Terry says it is the quality of the fruit that gives Home Hill the edge.

“They normally say 80 per cent of winemaking is done in the vineyard,” said Terry.

“If you don’t over crop and you don’t get disease, if you get perfect grapes in the vineyard, it’s pretty easy for the winemaker to make good wine.”

The Home Hill label was initially launched at the A Taste of the Huon festival, and that’s how Terry and Rosemary first became involved on the committee.

They have been continuous committee members since 2001, and Rosemary has been president since 2011.

They have introduced innovative changes to the Festival that has seen it grow from a small, local foodie event, to an extravaganza of local produce, arts and crafts and amazing entertainment that attracts visitors from all over Tasmania and even interstate, around 20,000 coming through the gates across the two-day event, held each year on the March long weekend.

Rosemary says it is the big-name national acts that has been the catalyst for the growth in numbers attending the festival.

“We started to get people like Russell Morris, Ross Wilson and the Wolfe Brothers and as soon as we started to get those big acts, the numbers increased,” said Rosemary.

“You have to be mindful that numbers will drop at some stage, then you have to start getting creative once again.”

The A Taste of the Huon festival has been the launch pad of some household names, with not only Home Hill launching from the festival, but also the likes of Nick Haddow’s Bruny Island Cheese, Nicky Noonan’s Tassaff saffron and Mark Duggan’s Huon Valley Juice Company apple juice.

While the couple are best known for Home Hill and A Taste of the Huon, their contribution to the community doesn’t end there, with Rosemary a current volunteer with the Huon Agricultural Society, a past chair of the Huonville Chamber of Commerce, a member of Wine Tasmania and past president of the Huon Valley Ladies Golf Club.

She also received a Paul Harris Fellow Award from the Rotary Club of D’Entrecasteaux in 2019.

Terry, as managing director of Bennett’s Petroleum, sponsors the Huon Show, the Huonville Lions Football Club and other community clubs and charities, and is a Life Member of the Huon Agricultural Society (Huon Show), having been a committee member since 1970, and a past president and vice-president of the Society.

“We want our community to prosper, we want the very best for everyone here,” said Rosemary.

“If the award is for contribution to A Taste of the Huon, I’d like to dedicate it to everyone that’s been on the committee, all the volunteers, the stall holders over so many years, because they’ve made that festival.

“And to Roger Oates, who was president for seven years and festival manager for 10 years. “Roger and I worked really closely together and the effort that he put into the festival made a big difference.”

With a son and daughter working at Home Hill, the Bennett’s legacy looks to be in safe hands.

“This Order of Australia, I think our kids and our grandchildren will hold that close to them for a long time, forever,” said Rosemary.

“They’re very, very proud.”