Did you know that the much-loved Kellybrook Cider Festival started out as a uni assignment? We caught up with Phil Kelly, who heads up Kellybrook Winery in Wonga Park, to talk all things cider, wine and craft beer.
I started off being one of the kids hanging around my father, who founded the winery. I worked here on the weekends while I was in school. My role has evolved since then and I’m now the Managing Director of Kellybrook Winery and I do a bit of everything.
The family has been on this property for nearly 80 years. My grandfather bought it in 1936 when it was a run-down orchard. My grandparents lived in town at the time but my grandfather was an enthusiastic weekend farmer. In the early forties, they decided to move here full time. My father Darren grew up here in the homestead and when he was about 20 he cleared what was left of the old orchards. The first round of apple trees he planted were traditional English cider-making varieties — including Kingston Black and Bulmers Norman — that had never been planted in Australia before. He planted these orchards and, with a fair bit of foresight I must say, got underway making cider. The first commercial production of cider here was in 1969. Dad then won a gold medal at the Royal Melbourne Show for his ciders which was very exciting; actually, he won nearly every award you could possibly win for cider!
I got involved full time in 1992 after studying physical education at university. After I graduated I went overseas and found myself in vineyards and wineries a lot. When I came back I studied wine science and I’ve since taken over from my dad. My brother got involved in the late 2000s and we opened another arm to our cider production and started brewing beer. It’s a family business and we all love what we do.
Yes, I grew up here. I went to the local school, as did my brother and my father. My kids have actually just gone through the same primary school as well. My wife has been involved with the school too — she runs the kitchen garden program, where the kids learn to grow and make food from the garden. We all like being involved in the local community.
Back then, there was very little precedence for getting into this industry. There were only a few wineries in Victoria and certainly not any in this area. If you wanted to get into this industry you had to search high and low for information. My dad started making cider purely because he was interested in it — he was a home brewer before he started to do it commercially. He then decided to take it to another level, left his job as a successful accountant and travelled to the UK. He went to the Long Ashton Research Station near Bristol which was at the forefront of cider production at that time. There, he delved into the archives, talked to the people there and learned the craft of cider making, which is very closely linked to wine making. He then travelled to Normandy and Brittany in France, where they make a different style of cider, and learned all he could. He became more and more fascinated with fermentation and the production of fruit wine, which is essentially what cider is.
When he got back he started buying grapes wherever he could. He learned a bit on the job, did a bit of study and took a risk, which all contributed to Kellybrook being the first licensed winery in the Yarra Valley. That’s just the way he is — very positive and dogmatic. He had a vision and it was unwavering. We learned from a young age that if you’re doing something, you have to 100% do it and see it through. That’s why we’re still here.
Yes, so we were cider first, then we got heavily involved in wine making and now we're in the beer game. We’ve always made cider but you’ve got to remember that cider has been in and out of fashion many times. It was popular in the seventies, then went into decline. In the eighties, it was all about Chardonnay and Shiraz. From 2005 to 2006 we noticed an increasing number of people coming to the cellar door who were telling us they had cider in the UK and enjoyed it. We could tell things were changing so we got right onto innovating our cider styles and producing more accessible varieties. Separate to Kellybrook, I helped start up the Coldstream Brewery where I trialled and developed new products for this venue. Of course, being a brewery, it gave me experience with the beer side of things, so when my brother said he was interested in beer making, I said ‘let’s do it’.
This is a funny one. When I was at uni I did a marketing subject and I had to put together a marketing plan for one of my assignments. I got chatting with my dad and he suggested I base it on an event at the winery. We pieced it all together, I handed my assignment in and the event actually ended up taking place. It’s been running ever since; in fact, we’ve just celebrated our 30th anniversary of the festival. Back in the early days, the event involved more folky things which attracted people who were yearning for their home country — England. Cider is now attracting a completely different crowd and we’re just lucky that when cider became popular we were still in the game and the event was still running. I’d say it’s now evolved into a music festival with lots of cider, wine, beer and food.
It’s important to us that the event is not one that is tightly governed. People park in the vineyards and are free to walk around and we’re not too precious about it, as long as everyone is having a good time. We welcome families — kids having a good time adds to the atmosphere too. All the locals come down, as well as people from all over Melbourne.
We harvest really good fruit, don’t store it for too long and we choose the right varieties for sweetness, flavour and acidity. We keep the balance right with tannins for our Kelly Brothers cider label. We also have our Kellybrook label that adopts the Methode Traditionelle process of bottle fermentation to make cider, which is matured for quite a few years before it’s released. We pay careful attention to palate and profile, rather than being recipe focussed.
The Essential Theatre Company will be performing Shakespeare in the Gardens on our property in January 2019. We’ve just joined the Small Wineries of the Yarra Valley group so we’re involved in an event called Shedfest that will be in October. This is more of a casual celebration of the Yarra Valley’s food and wine. And, of course, we have the next Kellybrook Cider Festival to look forward to.
We also host live music here on the last Sunday of each month which keeps things fresh. It attracts people to our cellar door which is important to us. We love talking to people and letting people know our story, which is getting older now but it’s one we’re proud of.
Maybe I’m biased, but even though I’ve been here for a long time I still love the property. It has a strong soul. I love that you could be driving in a built-up residential area, turn down our main road, and it opens up to a place that you would never imagine. It’s a bit hidden; well, it’s very hidden and that’s always been our biggest challenge. But I’d encourage people to come here and experience the general feel of the place as well as the products that are made from long-established vineyards and orchards. The place is also full of kangaroos now so we often get people coming out to see them. We can’t guarantee they’ll be here but there are certainly a lot in the area.
The pace of it and the general environment. It’s a beautiful spot with really nice people.
We’d definitely go to Warrandyte — I love it along the river there. I’d take them to HEIDE Museum of Modern Art to check out the gallery. We’ve got a few really good local cafes and restaurants that are starting to pop up in the most unexpected places which would be great to take a visitor to. The Public Brewery is another great place that has come out of nowhere. I love it when people put in a whole lot of effort into doing something interesting and we all get to enjoy it. We have to support these businesses — if we don’t they’ll disappear.
Restaurant Public Brewery — like I said it’s a new and interesting place for the area.
Grazing plate: Here at Kellybrook. Our grazing plates are made with local produce and we offer picnic blankets and baskets so they can be enjoy in our historic gardens.
Nature spot Down at Warrandyte State Park just off Jumping Creek Road. It’s beautiful.