Winemaker downs tools

Jackson Lavell-LeeAugusta Margaret River Times
Email Jackson Lavell-Lee
Woody Nook boss Neil Gallagher.
Camera IconWoody Nook boss Neil Gallagher.

One of the pioneers of the Margaret River wine industry, Woody Nook’s Neil Gallagher, will retire at the end of this month after an illustrious 40 year career.

Mr Gallagher’s family bought the future winery on Metricup road in 1978 and planted the first clippings in 1982.

In 1989, Gallagher was taught how to make wine by Mike and Jan Davies and later John Smith before trying his hand in a 1990 “trial and error” cabernet which later won awards at the Perth Royal Show and at Mount Barker.

Gallagher looks back at those early years fondly, saying the “hard yakka” of building the winery himself, tending the vineyard and processing the wine gave him a respect and desire for the simplicity of the winemaking craft.

“Not many other wineries have the winemaker doing the pruning and tending to the vineyard. I’ll miss that side of it,” he said.

One of the veteran winemakers in the region, Gallagher’s contemporaries include Keith Mugfood of Moss Wood, Vanya Cullen of Cullens Wines and Virginia Willcock of Vasse Felix.

Gallagher, pictured, said there was an incentive to develop wineries in the Margaret River region in the 1960s, but he also had to work in trade jobs to stay afloat.

“While we were getting the vineyard going, I used to go out and lay carpets as well, and five years of roof plumbing and a few years in a saw mill,” he said.

“There was no expertise in vineyards, not like contractors these days. We had no one to tell us which weeds to spray, how the weather might affect the vintage, and that grasshopper plagues would eat everything.”

After his family sold the winery to Peter and Jane Bailey in 2000, Mr Gallagher became a major shareholder, as well as winemaker, as Woody Nook wines started selling around the world. The export portfolio would grow to include the UK, Europe, US, China, Malaysia and Singapore, while Woody Nook wines have won many awards including 12 gold medals and the International Wine Challenge best red wine in 2013 for its cabernet sauvignon.

“My philosophy was to make wine for 90 per cent of the population, keep it as clean as possible, and don’t interfere with it,” he said.

The more you do to wine, the more you take away from it, so you have to guide it through its journey as simply as you can.”

Reflecting on his career, the workaholic in Mr Gallagher was resigned to the opportunity cost, spending years perfecting his craft and home environment but missing out on the best fishing trips.

“The pressure of winemaking and seasonal issues such as birds and netting are difficult and it seems you’re always busy when the weather’s brilliant. I’ve seen many people go out in their boats when I’m working, I think it’s about time I went on a fishing trip.”

Now all he plans to do is tend to his vegie garden in Busselton.

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